WASHINGTON – Government officials in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. mishandled two “gun-walking” operations in Arizona and put the public in serious risk in the process, according to an inspector general’s report released recently.
Two government officials left their posts after the release of the 512-page report, which criticized the Justice Department, the U.S Attorney’s Office in Arizona and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives over Operation Fast and Furious and Operation Wide Receiver.
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a prepared statement that others may yet face personnel actions as a result of the report, which has been more than a year.
Holder, who was held in contempt by the House in June, said the report reaffirms the fact that Justice Department leaders “did not attempt to cover up information or mislead Congress” about Operation Fast and Furious, which began in 2009. Operation Wide Receiver ran from 2006 to 2007, before Holder was in office.
“I hope today’s report acts as a reminder of the dangers of adopting as fact unsubstantiated conclusions before an investigation of the circumstances is completed,” Holder’s statement said.
But Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, said it is too early to exonerate Holder or his department. Gosar, who was still digesting the report Wednesday evening, noted that it said “the inner circle around the AG (attorney general) were responsible.”
“This happened underneath his watch. He should have known better,” Gosar said.
Operation Fast and Furious and Operation Wide Receiver were both gun-trafficking investigations run out of ATF offices in southern Arizona. Under the investigation, agents did not stop illicit gun buyers at the point of sale, instead hoping to follow them up the chain of command to catch drug cartel leaders.
While some arrests were ultimately made, hundreds of the guns that were allowed to “walk” have never been accounted for. In Operation Fast and Furious alone, the report said straw purchasers spent $1.5 million to acquire nearly 2,000 firearms, many of which ended up in the hands of criminals on both sides of the border.
The issue exploded after two Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene of a December 2010 shootout with Border Patrol agents near Rio Rico, Ariz., about 18 miles north of the Mexico border. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.
Terry’s family was still reviewing the report Wednesday. But in a statement from Robert Heyer, a cousin who serves as chairman of the Brian Terry Foundation, he noted that the report points to the “serious, systemic failures of the Justice Department at all levels.”
“Questions and concerns should have been raised before the weapons purchased in this failed government sting wound up in the hands of drug dealers and killers,” the statement said.