The Inspector General of the U.S. Justice Department released its highly-anticipated report on “Operation Fast and Furious” Wednesday.
The report points the finger at federal officials for their handling of the botched gun-trafficking case and primarily places blame for the operation on what it describes as a poorly supervised, dysfunctional group of Arizona-based federal prosecutors and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents.
Special agent Brian Terry was killed during a shootout near the Mexican border in December 2010. Investigators have linked the weapon used to kill Terry with the failed “Fast and Furious” gunwalking operation.
Appearing on CNN Thursday morning, South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy, a Republican who is one of the lead U.S. House investigators into the operation, says the new report shows a congressional probe was legitimate.
Gowdy said the investigation is not a Republican witch-hunt aimed at the Obama Administration but is about pursuing justice. To prove his point, Gowdy said he’s willing to go back to the operation’s early years in the George W. Bush administration to seek answers.
“I am first and foremost a former prosecutor, even more so than a current member of Congress,” he told CNN, “And I don’t care whether the Bull Moose Party, Whig Party, Republican Party, or the Democratic Party sanctioned gun-walking. It is wrong.”
Gunwalking was a tactic whereby the ATF allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers, hoping to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders. However, later reports indicated that more than 200 Mexican citizens were later killed by the weapons involved.
The report recommends that 14 Justice Department employees be disciplined for their role in the operation. That included former ATF head Kenneth Melson, who resigned last year, and assistant attorney general in charge of criminal prosecutions Lanny Breuer, who was “admonished” by the agency.
However, the IG’s report essentially exonerates Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. of any wrongdoing. But Gowdy says he still has serious questions about Holder’s leadership of the Justice Department. “I have consistently said I have no evidence that Attorney General Holder knows about gun-walking before you or I knew about it. The question then is should he have known about it? Is there a failure to supervise and lead within the department? That is not a political question.”
In June, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted to hold Holder in contempt over accusations that he was blocking their investigation. Holder said that Wednesday’s report vindicated his own actions. The Attorney General ordered the Inspector General to investigate the operation in February 2011.
Gowdy says one lesson to be learned from the botched operation is that law enforcement agencies must work together. “That failure to connect the dots is because federal law enforcement agencies don’t communicate with one another. In fact, oftentimes they are often in competition with one another. So this report should be an indictment on law enforcement agencies being so caught up in who gets the credit that they fail to communicate with one another.”
Gowdy says while some have attempted to paint the probe of the operation as being a political football, the Department of Justice must always be considered above politics. “The Department of Justice is not just another political entity, it is something Republicans, Democrats, and independents and everyone else needs to have confidence in,” he told CNN, “We should not have had to have an IG report. We frankly should not have had to have a congressional investigation.”
Gowdy said he is pleased that the Justice Department is releasing more documents on the operation.