Grassley on Gun-Walking Report: 'Still Don't Know the Full Extent of White House Involvement'

Susan Jones | September 20, 2012 | 7:20am EDT
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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) (AP Photo)

( - At first glance, the Justice Department Inspector-General's report on Operation Fast and Furious "reaffirms virtually everything" that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have already reported, Grassley said on Wednesday.

But, the senator added, "We still don't know the full extent of any White House involvement because they refused to be transparent and provide documents requested by the Inspector General."

Grassley and Issa began investigating the gun trafficking scheme in 2011, after whistleblowers told them that guns illegally purchased in the U.S. were being allowed to flow to Mexico for purposes of being traced to Mexican drug cartels. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lost track of the guns, two of which ended up at the scene where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered.

"Operation Fast and Furious was the height of irresponsibility on the part of a number of people from the ATF Phoenix field office all the way up to the Justice Department headquarters," Grassley said on Wednesday.

“It’s clear that both the ATF and the Justice Department failed to provide meaningful oversight of Operation Fast and Furious. They ignored warnings from employees, and frankly, failed to do their jobs. It took the death of our own Border Patrol Agent, action by a courageous whistleblower, and intense scrutiny from Congress before they even took note of what was happening under their own eyes. Even then, they wouldn’t come clean with how bad it really was until after they had sent a false letter and retracted it eight months later."

Issa noted that the IG's report makes it clear that Attorney General Eric Holder was not aware of crucial information about Fast and Furious -- but his inner circle was aware.

Issa pointed to page 453 of the report, in which the IG says: "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 (the) investigations.”

"In page after page, the IG's report actually uses terms like 'knew' or 'should have known,'" Issa told Fox & Friends on Thursday. "But when you look and say, 'Where does the buck stop,' it never stops at Attorney General Holder or (Assistant Attorney General) Lanny Breuer. They both need to rely on what they didn't know and why they didn't know it."

Grassley also mentioned some of Holder's inner circle by name: “Former Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer who heads the Criminal Division, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, and Holder’s own Deputy Chief of Staff Monty Wilkinson are all singled out for criticism in the report.  It’s time for President Obama to step in and provide accountability for officials at both the Department of Justice and ATF who failed to do their jobs.  Attorney General Holder has clearly known about these unacceptable failures yet has failed to take appropriate action for over a year and a half.”

(On Wednesday, after the report was released, former ATF head Kenneth Melson "retired," and  Jason Weinstein, the deputy assistant attorney general in Justice's Criminal Division, resigned. The IG report referred 14 people for possible department disciplinary action -- including Grindler and Breuer.)

Grassley called it "particularly discouraging" that the botched sting operation could have been stopped much earlier if Justice Department officials has simply read the wiretap applications. "The  Inspector General noted that anybody reading those documents should have seen the red flags. The law requires that certain senior officials authorize those applications, and the Inspector General found that they did so without reading them."

Issa also commented on the wiretaps: "Contrary to the denials of the Attorney General and his political defenders in Congress, the investigation found that information in wiretap applications approved by senior Justice Department officials in Washington did contain red flags showing reckless tactics, and (it) faults Attorney General Eric Holder’s inner circle for their conduct," Issa said on Wednesday.

"I’m glad that the OIG is joining me and Chairman Issa in urging the Justice Department to move to unseal the wiretap applications so that the American people can read them and make up their own minds," Grassley said.

Grassley also questioned President Obama's decision to invoke executive privilege to shield Justice Department documents subpoenaed by Congress. Those documents would explain how the Justice Department responded to the congressional investigators and whether it withheld key information.

“We’ll be reading the report in more detail," Grassley said. "We’ve already noticed that the report contains a factual error that lets Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer off the hook.  The report accepts Breuer’s version of events, claiming that he hadn’t “proposed edits, commented on the drafts or otherwise indicated he had read them.” 

In fact, emails show that he received drafts of the (erroneous) February 4 letter and commented on them before it was sent, which he later denied to Congress.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz will testify on the findings of his investigation before the Issa's Oversight and Government Reform Committee Thursday morning.

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