Without any help from the Obama administration or the U.S. Department of Justice, GOP congressional investigators have determined that five senior officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are together responsible for the failed federal gun-walking operation "Fast and Furious," The Los Angeles Times reports.
The final report, which is expected to be released later this week, also reveals new evidence that shows agents from ATF in Phoenix initially tried to hide crucial information from the Mexican government about two firearms that were recovered after the brother of a Mexican state attorney general was killed in the country. The report claims the operation was "marred by missteps, poor judgements and inherently reckless strategy."
Those implicated go from the ATF special agent-in-charge of the Phoenix field office to the top official in the bureau's Washington headquarters. Attorney General Eric Holder has always denied any involvement of officials in Washington, D.C.
The congressional investigators said the report, obtained Monday by the Los Angeles Times, holds "the best information available as of now" about Fast and Furious, which led to Holder being found in contempt of Congress for failing to provide duly subpoenaed documents.
Two additional final reports will address "the devastating failure of supervision and leadership" at the DOJ and an "unprecedented obstruction of the [congressional] investigation by the highest levels of the Justice Department, including the attorney general himself."
The joint staff report, authored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on theSenate Judiciary Committee, was highly critical of the ATF supervisors.
They found that William Newell, the special agent-in-charge in Phoenix, exhibited “repeatedly risky” management and “consistently pushed the envelope of permissible investigative techniques.” The report said “he had been reprimanded ... before for crossing the line, but under a new administration and a new attorney general he reverted back to the use of risky gunwalking tactics.”
His boss, Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon, “rubber stamped critical documents that came across his desk without reading them,” the report alleged. “In McMahon’s view it was not his job to ask any questions about what was going on in the field.”
They added that McMahon gave “false testimony” to Congress about signing applications for wiretap intercepts in Fast and Furious.
His supervisor, Mark Chait, assistant director for field operations, “played a surprisingly passive role during the operation,” the report said. “He failed to provide oversight that his experience should have dictated and his position required.”
Above Chait was Deputy Director William Hoover, who the report said ordered an exit strategy to scuttle Fast and Furious but never followed through: “Hoover was derelict in his duty to ensure that public safety was not jeopardized.”
And they said Melson, a longtime career Justice official, “often stayed above the fray” instead of bringing Fast and Furious to an “end sooner.”
But, the investigators said, ATF agents said that they were hamstrung by federal prosecutors in Arizona from obtaining criminal charges for illegal gun sales, and that Melson “even offered to travel to Phoenix to write the indictments himself. Still, he never ordered it be shut down.”
In the November 2010 slaying in Mexico of Mario Gonzalez, the brother of Patricia Gonzalez, then attorney general for the state of Chihuahua, two of 16 weapons were traced back to Fast and Furious after they were recovered from a shootout with Mexican police.
But 10 days later, ATF Agent Tonya English urged Agent Hope MacAllister and their supervisor, David J. Voth, to keep it under wraps. “My thought is not to release any information,” she told them in an email.
When Patricia Gonzalez later learned that two of the guns had been illegally obtained under Fast and Furious, she was outraged. "The basic ineptitude of these officials [who ordered the Fast and Furious operation] caused the death of my brother and surely thousands more victims," she said.
The following month, Agent Terry was killed south of Tucson. Voth emailed back, “Ugh ... things will most likely get ugly.”
Roughly 2,500 guns were walked in operation Fast and Furious, supposedly in an attempt to track the guns back to high-ranking drug cartel members. However, the program was shut down after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010. At that point, most of the weapons had been lost, but two of the guns were recovered at the scene of Terry's murder.
The five ATF managers that are indicated in the upcoming congressional report have since moved to other positions. They have either defended Fast and Furious in congressional testimony or refused to talk about it. The LA Times attempted to contact the officials but were unsuccessful Monday.
Additionally, Holder and the DOJ have always maintained that Fast and Furious was only conducted out of the Arizona offices and never involved officials in Washington, D.C., who he says were unaware of the flawed "tactics" being implemented. Holder has refused to turn over all the documents requested by a Congressional committee headed by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) and Obama has granted executive privilege in the case, which has raised additional question about how involved the White House was in the operation.
So considering the new information, take our poll below:
Update: Read the first of the three-part report titled "Fast and Furious: The Anatomy of a Failed Operation, Part I of III" here.