Holder Aide Faces Heat Over Fast and Furious
By EVAN PEREZ
Fast and Furious Report Cites Management Failures
A Justice Department watchdog recommended that 14 employees be reviewed for possible sanctions in light of a "pattern of serious failures" at the department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in overseeing the botched Fast and Furious operation. Evan Perez has details on The News Hub. 9/19/2012 4:24:56 PM
WASHINGTON—House Republicans on Thursday took aim at Lanny Breuer, the Justice Department's top criminal prosecutor, a day after a report by the department's internal watchdog on the bungled Fast and Furious gun-trafficking case largely spared him from blame.
"How does he escape discipline?" said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.).Republicans have called for Mr. Breuer's resignation and stepped up the attacks at a hearing Thursday of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the report.
A U.S. official said Attorney General Eric Holder "admonished" Mr. Breuer, who is assistant attorney general, but no further discipline is expected. The Justice Department said Mr. Breuer wouldn't comment.
Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said Mr. 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 report released Wednesday] 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."
Mr. Breuer has said he wasn't aware of the Fast and Furious operation but acknowledged he should have alerted Mr. Holder and other leaders when he learned about the dangerous tactics used in an earlier operation called Wide Receiver in 2006-2007.
Similar tactics were later used in Fast and Furious, a gun probe run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix in 2009 and 2010. Agents allowed sales of about 2,000 guns, mostly variants of AK-47 rifles, to suspected smugglers. The aim was to prosecute top traffickers, but many of the firearms have turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S., and hundreds more are unaccounted for.
In the report released Wednesday, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz cited a "pattern of serious failures" in Fast and Furious and said officials should have asked more questions about the risky operation.
Republican lawmakers generally welcomed the report as "balanced" and "fair." At Thursday's hearing, however, many lawmakers said they wished that Mr. Horowitz had been harder on Mr. Breuer, whom the report described as the most senior official to learn about the tactics.
Mr. Breuer told a senior prosecutor in his office, Jason Weinstein, to raise concerns with ATF officials about the impropriety of the agents' tactics, according to the report. But the report shows the response was largely aimed at avoiding bad press coverage.
"I think you were a little soft on Lanny Breuer," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) told Mr. Horowitz at the Thursday hearing.
In an interview last year, Mr. Breuer said he thought the earlier Wide Receiver problems were an isolated matter. "I wish I had alerted the deputy and the attorney general. I didn't recognize there was this other case out there that had probably, not identical, but comparable problems," he said.
Mr. Horowitz recommended that 14 employees, including Mr. Breuer, be reviewed for possible sanctions, and on Thursday he told lawmakers that the decision on whether to take any action is in the hands of Mr. Holder.
Two of the 14 departed the Justice Department as a result of Mr. Horowitz's report: Mr. Weinstein and Kenneth Melson, who was acting head of ATF during Fast and Furious.
Some Democratic lawmakers came to Mr. Breuer's defense, observing that the report found he didn't approve the agents' tactics. They also said the report proved their long-standing assertion that Mr. Holder didn't order the tactics in Fast and Furious.
A yearlong dispute between Republicans and Mr. Holder, including a fight over documents, led to a House vote in June that held Mr. Holder in contempt of Congress.
Republican lawmakers said Mr. Holder should have acted earlier on discipline. "The housecleaning should have happened a year and a half ago," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Mr. Issa has led the congressional investigation of Fast and Furious along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa).