A day after the release of the Justice Department Inspector General’s lengthy investigative report, GOP lawmakers continued to question the role of the Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer in Operation Fast and Furious.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified that Breuer failed to complete his duties by informing Attorney General Eric Holder and his deputies of gun-walking activity when he learned of it in April 2010.
“It was failure by him to not alert the deputy or the Attorney General to that,” Horowitz told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday morning. “The [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosvies] reports to the deputy, not to him. It’s incumbent upon him to report.”
Horowitz’s 471-page report, released Wednesday, was the culmination of a 19-month inquiry into the department’s handling of the botched gun-walking operation. Investigators in the Office of Inspector General reviewed 100,000 documents and interviewed more than 130 people, including Holder.
The report found that the Arizona-based ATF field office and the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office bore the responsiblity for the failures in the gun trafficking investigation, failing to adequately consider public safety in the process. The report also criticized some members of the Justice Department, including Breuer and now-resigned Jason Weinstein, former deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division.
Though Holder announced Wednesday that some officials found to be at fault in the report have been referred for potential disciplinary action, news reports indicate that Breuer will not face punishment. Breuer, however, was “admonished” by the Attorney General, according to a department official.
On Thursday, Republicans largely thanked Horowitz for what they called an extensive and independent report, but some said the exception to their gratitude was the treatment of Breuer.
“Given his duty to supervise, false letters to Congress and his failure to connect the dots… how is he escaping discipline?” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked Horowitz, adding that he found it odd that Breuer’s own deputy was forced to resign in the wake of the report.
Gowdy, a former prosecutor, quipped that he couldn’t imagine a headline that said, “Passengers were charged with speeding but driver was exonerated.”
Horowitz told the committee that the decision to discipline is entirely up to the Attorney General. He said that his office aimed to lay out the set of facts according to the evidence discovered. He added, however, that he was “troubled” by Breuer’s decision not to tell Holder about gun-walking after he was made aware of it in an earlier George W. Bush-era operation known as Wide Receiver. Still, he said, his office did not find evidence that Breuer authorized or approved of the gun-walking tactics used during Operation Fast and Furious.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) also questioned Breuer’s knowledge of a Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Congress that has since been rescinded by the department. Horowitz said his office found there was no conclusive evidence that Breuer had read the Feb. 4 letter despite emails that indicate his receipt of a draft version of the letter.
“What we found as to Mr. Breuer was regardless if he read the letter or not … he should have explained what went on in Wide Receiver,” Horowitz said. “The people writing the letter said it would have made a difference.”
Horowitz did note, as the report does, that the letter-writing process was “disorganized and problematic” from the beginning.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) had previously called for Breuer to resign over Fast and Furious. The IG instead found that Weinstein was the most senior official at Main Justice to know about the flawed tactics that allowed hundreds of weapons to flow into the apparent hands of criminals, even as ATF was tracking the weapons sales to suspected middleman straw buyers.
But not everyone on the committee was quick to bash the Criminal Division chief. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) pulled out portions of the report that would seem to cast Breuer in a better light. The report found that Breuer never authorized gun-walking, he did not approve of any wiretaps in the operation, nor was he aware of gun-walking in Fast and Furious until whistleblowers brought the issue to the public.
Davis also noted that Breuer previously testified before Congress and apologized for and regretted that he did not raise issues within Wide Receiver with other senior Justice Department officials sooner.
Fast and Furious was an attempt to trace weapons purchased by straw buyers in the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels. ATF has come under intense criticism for failing to interdict the weapons, losing track of guns as they were presumably smuggled across the southwestern border. Two guns that had been tracked in the Fast and Furious probe were found at the December 2010 scene of a shootout in Arizona that left Border Patrol agent Brian Terry dead.
“Assistant Attorney General Breuer acknowledged last year that he should have alerted department leadership of flawed tactics in an operation that occurred several years ago when he learned that information in 2010, but the OIG Report makes absolutely clear that Assistant Attorney General Breuer had no knowledge of – nor did he authorize – any investigative tactics or strategy involving Operation Fast and Furious.” Rebekah Carmichael, Justice Department spokeswoman for the Criminal Division, told Main Justice.
She added: “Nearly one year ago, Assistant Attorney General Breuer acknowledged his mistake to the Attorney General and to Congress.”
UPDATE 2:30 p.m.: Adds statement from department spokeswoman Rebekah Carmichael.