Five high-level ATF officials, located both in the Phoenix field office and the Washington, D.C. headquarters, are culpable in the botched Operation Fast and Furious, according to a new report by the two Republican lawmakers heading the congressional inquiry.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) co-authored what is the first of three promised reports. The congressional Republicans said the failed gun-tracking investigation was “marred by missteps, poor judgments and inherently reckless strategy.” The 211 page report is based on interviews with 24 individuals and the review of more than 10,000 pages of documents. Tuesday’s report focuses only on the culpability of those working for ATF; the second report will focus more broadly on Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a classic case of government agencies’ failure to connect the dots,” Grassley said in a statement. “The ATF clearly needs to clean up its act, and the Department of Justice needs to make certain this kind of program is never allowed to happen again.”
The second report is expected to focus on Justice Department officials in Washington, including information about Attorney General Eric Holder’s role. Holder was found in contempt of Congress in June for refusing to turn over documents to the congressional committee investigating the failed operation. The Attorney General has said the operation was contained within the Phoenix field office and that senior Justice Department officials were not aware of the flawed tactics.
The report implicates William Newell, then-special-agent-in-charge in Phoenix; William McMahon, deputy assistant director for field operations in Phoenix; Mark Chait, assistant director for field operations; William Hoover, deputy director; and Kenneth Melson, then-ATF acting director in Washington.
The lawmakers found that Newell “consistently pushed the envelope of permissible investigative techniques,” and had the ability to stop the operation much sooner that it ended.
McMahon, the chief liaison between the Phoenix field office and ATF headquarters, gave false testimony to Congress about signing applications for wiretap intercepts, in addition to signing off on investigation documents without fully reading them, according to the report.
The report contends that Chait was absent in the investigation process, failing to ”provide oversight that his experience should have dictated and his position required.”
Chait “had enough information about Fast and Furious to ask the right questions,” the report asserts. “There was ample warning signs for him to do so. He did not.”
Hoover, who purportedly ordered an exit strategy to be put in place, was “derelict in his duty” because he did not follow up on his command. Hoover had a responsibility to ensure the operation was within the guidelines set forth by the ATF and the Justice Department but did not do so, the report contends.
Melson, who was concerned about the operation but did ensure it ended sooner, seems to have been made the “scapegoat” by the Justice Department, the report states. Ultimately, Melson “bears a significant measure of responsiblity for failing to ensure that ATF headquarters personnel adequately supervised the Phoenix Field Division.”