Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein resigned today in the wake of the Justice Department Inspector General report on the botched gun-walking investigation, Operation Fast and Furious.
A career prosecutor who spent a decade as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Manhattan and Maryland before taking a leadership role in the DOJ’s Criminal Division in 2009, Weinstein wrote in a resignation letter that he leaves the department with “great sadness.”
He slammed the Inspector General’s conclusion that he had known about, but failed to stop, the practice of allowing guns to cross the border into Mexico in order to trace them to wider criminal networks. He called that conclusion “completely false.”
“Nonetheless, I recognize that, in the dynamic of internal investigations of this nature, particularly when they become enmeshed in politicized Congressional hearings, it is virtually inevitable that someone must be singled out for blame, whether the facts support it or not,” Weinstein wrote in his resignation letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder. “That is what the Inspector General’s report has done with regard to me here.”
The letter is posted on the website of his lawyer, Michael Bromwich, himself a former Justice Department Inspector General.
The current Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, was confirmed by the Senate in March. The report said Weinstein was the most senior lawyer at DOJ who “obtained information about the case during that time period but did not recognize any of the ‘red flags’ which indicated that ‘gun walking’ might have been occurring.”
In Operation Fast and Furious, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a Justice Department agency, had been allowing straw buyers to buy guns from dealers in Arizona with the intention of tracing them back to Mexican criminal networks and building indictments. Operating under flawed legal analysis from Arizona Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley that agents lacked probable cause to arrest the straw buyers and interdict the weapons, ATF allowed the guns to “walk” into Mexico, where agents lost track of them.
The IG report faults Weinsteinfor failing to make a connection between an earlier gun-walking investigation under the George W. Bush administration, Operation Wide Receiver, and the similarly flawed tactics in Operation Fast and Furious. He failed to forcefully convey to ATF that gun-walking tactics were unacceptable, the report said. And when reporting to superiors at the Justice Department, including Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer, he mentioned the unacceptable tactics used in Wide Receiver but did not make clear that similar tactics were still in use in Fast and Furious, the report said.
In a 32-page rebuttal, Bromwich said the IG report presented evidence in a “distorted and misleading fashion,” and put too much weight on testimony of witnesses who were contradicted or recanted. Bromwich also complained that Weinstein gave 15 hours of interviews to the IG but was not allowed to review the transcript of his testimony for purposes of rebuttal.
As a Deputy Assistant Attorney General at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, Weinstein is the most senior “scalp” won by congressional Republicans in their nearly two years of investigation. The IG report largely exonerates Breuer, Weinstein’s boss, saying he had been presented flawed information and did not directly supervise the investigation. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who had been investigating Fast and Furious from his perch as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary committee, had previously demanded that Breuer resign over the gun-walking scandal.
Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in 2010 at a shootout in Arizona with Mexican bandits. Two guns from the Fast and Furious investigation were found at the scene.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona, which oversaw the probe, was largely blamed in the IG report for mishandling the investigation. The U.S. Attorney in Arizona, Dennis Burke, already was forced to resign last year in response to the scandal. Then-acting ATF Director Ken Melson was reassigned last year inside DOJ headquarters. His immediate retirement was announced today.
Updated 7:26 p.m. EDT