The Inspector General for the Department of Justice defended his finding on Capitol Hill Thursday that senior officials of the department had limited knowledge of the botched Operation Fast and Furious gun-trafficking sting, but should have asked more questions about the investigation.
In his first testimony before Congress since being confirmed in March, IG Michael Horowitz fielded a barrage of questions from members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"We concluded that both Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious were seriously flawed and supervised irresponsibly by ATF's Phoenix Field Division and the U.S. attorney's office, most significantly in their failure to adequately consider the risk to the public safety in the United States and Mexico," Horowitz said in his opening statement. "This failure reflected a significant lack of oversight and urgency by both ATF and the U.S. attorney's office, and a disregard by both for the safety of individuals in the United States and Mexico."
Both Republicans and Democrats hammered Horowitz about the extent to which Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer knew about the "gunwalking" operation. In his opening remarks, committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called Horowitz's report "comprehensive, strong and independent."While Horowitz's 417-page review criticizes several senior DOJ officials for their roles in the scandal, it cleared Holder of the allegation that he misled Congress about his personal knowledge of the flawed tactics used in the sting.
Horowitz skirted a question by Issa about whether the 100,000 documents reviewed for the report should be disclosed to the committee.
Issa also noted the refusal of some potential witnesses to speak with Horowitz's office, and he asked Horowitz if he would have tried to compel witnesses to speak if he had had the authority to do so.
"Certainly we would have used whatever authority we had to seek testimony from individuals," Horowitz responded.
Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and several Republicans, including Representative Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), pressed Horowitz on the specific knowledge that Breuer had regarding Fast and Furious.
"We found that Mr. Breuer back in April 2010 knew about the gunwalking tactics in Wide Receiver," Horowitz said. "It was incumbent upon him to report it to the Deputy and Attorney General. We believe, as he ultimately testified, that he should have alerted the department. It is clear that Mr. Breuer was aware in 2010, which is why we were troubled by his decision."
Horowitz said that while Breuer knew of the tactics used in Wide Receiver, Holder was unaware of Fast and Furious prior to Sen. Chuck Grassley's (R-Iowa) letter to ATF Director Kenneth Melson on January 27, 2011.
"So many people knew about it and no one seemed to take action, even the Deputy AG when he knew he needed an exit strategy," Horowitz said.