State: Federal officials allowed gun-walking for years in Arizona
WASHINGTON - Operation Fast and Furious was the fourth "gun-walking" investigation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the Phoenix area, according to a congressional report released Tuesday.
"Fatally Flawed: Five Years of Gunwalking in Arizona" said that under the four operations, which began in 2006, roughly 2,800 firearms walked into the hands of drug cartels and other criminals.
The report - prepared by Democrats on a House committee investigating the operations - also claimed to put to rest theories that the operations were ordered from the highest levels of the Justice Department. It said the fault rests with federal officials in Arizona.
"This report debunks many unsubstantiated conspiracy theories," wrote Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking minority member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
He said the report found "no evidence that Operation Fast and Furious was a politically motivated operation conceived and directed by high-level Obama administration political appointees at the Department of Justice."
Republicans quickly attacked the report as a political document meant to divert scrutiny from Attorney General Eric Holder, who is set to testify Thursday before the committee about Fast and Furious.
"This is outrageous that the minority staff would put out something this inappropriate," said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, who serves on the committee.
For the past year, congressional Republicans have been investigating the Obama administration's role in Operation Fast and Furious, which began in late 2009. Committee Democrats have insisted that Department of Justice higher-ups were unaware of the program, and have pushed for an examination all gun-walking operations, including those that began during President George W. Bush's administration.
Cummings' report details all four operations that allowed suspected criminals to illegally purchase thousands of guns in Arizona, in the hopes of tracing the weapons to larger criminal networks.
The report said each investigation "involved various incarnations of the same activity: ATF-Phoenix agents were contemporaneously aware of suspected illegal firearms purchases, they did not typically interdict the weapons or arrest the straw purchasers, and those firearms ended up in the hands of criminals on both sides of the border."
But Gosar questioned comparing Operation Fast and Furious to the ATF's other investigations.
"Show me the gun that killed someone from Operation Wide Receiver," Gosar said, in reference to the 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near the border, where two guns linked to Fast and Furious were found. "This is apples versus oranges. These are not the same."
Echoing other Republicans, Gosar claimed Holder has lied in previous hearings about his knowledge of Fast and Furious, and that "Arizonans and Mexicans were used as collateral damage" during the botched operation.
But committee Democrats were just as quick Tuesday to accuse Republicans of playing politics with their aggressive inquiry into the Justice Department's handling of Fast and Furious.
"There is a real threat on our southern border, and while the Republicans are dithering on a narrow political agenda, people are dying," said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., who also serves on the government reform committee. "The Republican majority led by (committee chair) Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and his staff have blocked efforts to call any former Bush officials to testify about what they did."
The report noted that committee Democrats have asked to call Bush-era Attorney General Michael Mukasey to testify on the three gunwalking operations that occurred on his watch, but committee Republicans have refused.
Gosar rebuked the call by Democrats to investigate the other three gunrunning operations - Operation Wide Receiver, the Hernandez and Medrano cases - conducted during Bush's presidency.
"We need to find the results on all the information on Fast and Furious and then we can get to the other ones," Gosar said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has pressed the investigation in the Senate, said the latest report does little to answer questions about the Justice Department's role in Fast and Furious.
"The idea that senior political appointees have clean hands in these gun-walking scandals doesn't pass the laugh test," Grassley said in a prepared statement. "It will take a lot more than a knee-jerk defense from their political allies in Congress to restore public trust in the leadership of the Justice Department."
Tuesday's report is the first time information about the 2008 Medrano case has been released, according to the House committee's minority staff.