George W. Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey was not briefed on “gun-walking” tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver, a predecessor to the controversial Operation Fast and Furious, a Department of Justice Inspector General report has found.
Mukasey received a Nov. 16, 2007, briefing paper about the status of southwestern border arms gun investigations that referred to a joint U.S.-Mexico attempt to “have a controlled delivery of weapons being smuggled into Mexico by a major arms trafficker.”
A “controlled delivery” refers to delivery of contraband via an undercover agent or close cooperator, with law enforcement at the ready to make arrests. In the briefing Mukasey received, the “controlled delivery” reference was to another investigation, not Operation Wide Receiver, which current Justice Department officials have pointed to as evidence that the “gun-walking” tactic had been used before, during the Bush administration.
The IG report concluded that Mukasey would not have known from the 2007 briefing about the more controversial gun-walking tactic, in which guns are allowed to cross the border in an attempt to build a larger case against arms trafficking networks.
The issue came up during the highly politicized back-and-forth between congressional Republicans investigating Fast and Furious and current Attorney General Eric Holder, whom many lawmakers had accused of knowing about the gun-walking going on in Operation Fast and Furious. The IG report concluded that Holder had not been briefed on the tactics.
Holder told the House Judiciary Committee on June 7, 2012, that Mukasey had been briefed on gun tactics similar to those used in Fast and Furious and “did far less than what I did.” A few days later, on June 12, 2012, Holder appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and said, “An [A]ttorney [G]eneral who I suppose you would hold in higher regard was briefed on these kinds of tactics in an operation called Wide Receiver and did nothing to stop them — nothing. Three hundred guns, at least, walked in that instance.”
Holder told the IG’s office that he understood that Mukasey had been briefed on a case in which weapons were not properly tracked. But Holder “acknowledged that the briefing referred to controlled deliveries,” the IG report says, which is the opposite of so-called “gun-walking.”
Holder added in his IG interview that he believed Mukasey should have been alarmed that “attempts had failed” to track guns, resulting in “whatever the number of hundred guns getting out.” But the IG said the 2007 briefing paper made no mention of the number of firearms involved in the attempted controlled deliveries.
The Deputy Assistant Attorneys General who prepared the 2007 briefing paper, John Roth and Bruce Swartz, told the IG they “did not recall discussions about attempted controlled deliveries or specific firearms trafficking cases with the Attorney General, ATF, or members of the Attorney General’s staff,” the report says.