A 471-page report was released following a 19-month review by the department's inspector general into "Operation Fast and Furious," which allowed about 2,000 potentially illegal firearms to cross the border into Mexico.
The operation raised the fury of U.S. gun-rights advocates and is a focal point for Republican criticism of President Barack Obama leading up to the November 6 elections.
Breuer, an Obama appointee and the head of the Justice Department's criminal division, is cited in the report for not alerting his superiors in 2010 to flaws in a program similar to Operation Fast and Furious that was started during George W. Bush's presidency.
One of Breuer's aides, Jason Weinstein, whom the report also refers for possible disciplinary action, has resigned from the department, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday. Weinstein failed to question firearms officials about the questionable tactics they used, the report said.
Another senior official, Kenneth Melson, will retire from the Justice Department, the spokeswoman said. Melson was the acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives until 2011, when he was reassigned.
Fast and Furious came to light after the December 2010 shooting death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry. Two guns that firearms agents attempted to track were found at the scene of Terry's death in rural Arizona.
The inspector general's report concluded there is "no evidence" that Attorney General Eric Holder, who heads the Justice Department, knew the details of Fast and Furious before they became publicly known in February 2011. Holder requested the internal review the same month.
An investigation by an independent arm of the Department of Justice concluded on Wednesday that Attorney General Eric Holder had no knowledge about a series of botched gun stings, which began in 2006 under George W. Bush — until the operation’s flaws became public in January 2011.
The 471-page Inspector General’s report on “Operation Fast and Furious” discredits sharp allegations by Republicans in Congress who launched a witch hunt against Holder, subjecting him to hours of interrogation to float conspiracy theories, alleging repeatedly that the Obama administration was using the high-profile gun violence from the operation to garner support for gun regulation, and finding Holder in contempt of Congress.
The report debunks suggestions that Holder attempted to mislead Congress or cover up information, and confirms Holder’s own account of the operation: that it employed “flawed strategy and tactics,” but that Holder did not know about or authorize those tactics. When Holder learned that the operation out of Phoenix had been selling guns to suspected gun smugglers in an attempt to snag traffickers, he initiated changes to Department policy and personnel, and asked for an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General, which concluded:
We determined that Attorney General Holder did not learn about Operation Fast and Furious until late January or early February 2011 and was not aware of allegations of “gun walking” in the investigation until February. We found no evidence that Department or ATF staff informed the Attorney General about Operation Wide Receiver or Operation Fast and Furious prior to 2011. We concluded that the Attorney General’s Deputy Chief of Staff, the Acting Deputy Attorney General, and the leadership of the Criminal Division failed to alert the Attorney General to significant information about or flaws in those investigations.
Although the Office of the Attorney General received various weekly reports from components in the Department that mentioned Operation Fast and Furious, we found that Attorney General Holder did not personally review these reports at the time that his office received them and that his staff did not highlight them for his review. Moreover, we determined that these reports did not refer to agents’ failure to interdict firearms or include information that otherwise provided notice of the improper strategy and tactics that ATF agents were using in the investigation.
The report does hold several lower-level officials responsible for their role in what it calls a ”pattern of serious failures,” and refers 14 DOJ employees for possible discipline. Holder announced today that some officials would be leaving the Department, including former acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Explosives Kenneth Molson, while others would be subject to review.
With this exhaustive report, the Department of Justice can further the real and important work of instituting necessary reforms, hopefully without the continued distraction of defending a bogus campaign to demonize Holder.