Bloomberg News

ATF Officials Face Blame in ‘Fast and Furious’ Case, Report Says

July 31, 2012

Five officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been singled out by congressional investigators for the failures of a U.S. law enforcement gun operation, according to a draft congressional report.

In the first of a three-part series of reports, Republican congressional investigators placed the blame on the ATF agents for failures in Fast and Furious, a law enforcement operation that allowed illegal gun purchases in the U.S. in an effort to link the weapons to Mexican drug cartels. Two of about 2,000 guns that ATF allowed to be carried away were found at the scene of the December 2010 murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in Arizona.

“From the outset, the case was marred by missteps, poor judgments, and an inherently reckless strategy,” the 211-page report said.

The report, drafted jointly by the staffs of Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, is the latest step in a congressional investigation that led to the House for the first time holding a Cabinet member in contempt of Congress. Attorney General Eric Holder was cited in June for failing to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious operation.

The second and third reports from the congressional investigators will focus on the Justice Department’s role in the operation, including what the Republican report calls “the devastating failure of supervision and leadership by officials at Justice Department headquarters, principally within the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, and within the Criminal Division.”

‘Political Theater’

In a statement after the the June contempt vote, White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said House Republicans “pushed for political theater rather than legitimate congressional oversight.” Separately, Holder called the House’s contempt citation “the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided and politically motivated investigation during an election year.”

The first report focuses on the failures of ATF officials in Washington and Arizona, where the operation was run in 2009 and 2010. Each of the officials named -- including Kenneth Melson, the ATF’s acting director during the operation, and William Newell, special agent in charge of the Phoenix Field Division -- have since been reassigned.

Red Flags

Issues identified in the report include ignoring red flags raised by other ATF officials, missing opportunities to end the operation in its early stages in order to hold out for a bigger case and failures from senior leadership to supervise the operation, according to the report.

The report is the result of an 18-month investigation that has included two prior interim reports, interviews with 24 officials, reviews of thousands of documents and four full committee hearings, the report said.

“This report is not intended to imply in any way that the mistakes and responsibility for Operation Fast and Furious are limited to ATF and other federal officials who were based in Arizona,” the draft report said, referring to its upcoming reports on the Justice Department.

To contact the reporter on this story: Phil Mattingly in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at

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