A new joint report from two Republican lawmakers on Fast and Furious — the ATF operation in which guns were allegedly allowed to “walk” to suspected straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels — contends that the Obama administration’s decision to prosecute a Bush-era case may have given agents a “green light” to let guns “walk.”
The report says that Fast and Furious was “marred by missteps, poor judgments, and an inherently reckless strategy,” and is critical of the Obama administration’s decision to “resurrect” and prosecute the Bush-era “Wide Receiver” operation. It comes about a month after the House voted to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly not complying with a subpoena for documents related to the case.
GOP investigators contend that Bill Newell, who served as head of ATF’s Phoenix office, “apparently began to believe that the new political leadership in the Justice Department in 2009 might welcome the use of the previously eschewed investigative tactics.” The tactics used were approved during the Bush administration but had sat dormant for a number of years before the Justice Department began examining them for prosecution during the Obama administration.
But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has previously distinguished Fast and Furious from Wide Receiver, saying at a hearing in December that the Bush administration “made a real effort under Wide Receiver to pass off a small amount of weapons and track them.” He had promised his committee would “get to the bottom” of what happened during the Bush administration.
While the 211-page report (plus thousands of pages in the appendices) doesn’t mention the word “Bush” once, it does say that Newell had been “experimenting with various new tactics” since 2006 that were “met with only mixed success.” The report referred to Newell as “a major promoter of the strategy in Fast and Furious” but said he “did not have significant experience as a case agent or working street operations” which “may have been a contributing factor to his ignorance of legal thresholds.”
The new Republican report also calls the Justice Department’s 2009 Strategy for Combating the Mexican Cartels a “signal from Department leadership that the tactics might be welcomed” and the “green light” ATF agents in Arizona used to justify “gun walking” tactics.
DOJ is pushing back on the report, with spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler saying it “reiterates many of the distortions and now-debunked conspiracy theories that Rep. Issa has been advancing for a year and a half, including the fiction that the flawed tactics used in Fast and Furious were somehow the brainchild of the current Administration as opposed to the reality that the pattern of flawed tactics dates back to 2006 and the prior Administration.”
She noted, however, that the report “does signal a notable shift in that the Committee finally acknowledges what the Attorney General and other Department officials have been saying from the beginning - that the flaws in this operation, and in previous ones, had their origins in the field in Arizona and occurred, in part, due to weak oversight by ATF leadership. That is why —last year — the Attorney General removed and reassigned the head of ATF and ensured that other officials who supervised and had responsibility for this operation were also reassigned.”
If Rep. Issa wants to continue to spend precious resources recycling old conspiracy theories for stale reports that do nothing to improve public safety that is his prerogative. The Attorney General believes that there is important work to be done for the American people and that partisan exercises like Rep. Issa’s latest effort do little to address the serious issues that face our country.
The full report is available on the House Oversight Committee’s website.