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Fast and Furious probe: 5 ATF officials singled out in GOP report

July 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Republican congressional draft report concluded that five officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives share much of the blame for what went wrong with Operation Fast and Furious.

After an 18-month probe of the botched Arizona gun-smuggling investigation, the first of what will be three reports says "many people up and down the chain of command in ATF share the blame for the case's tragic failures."

All five ATF officials were removed from their jobs and reassigned a year ago.

The tactic was designed to track guns to major weapons traffickers and drug cartels, but many of the weapons weren't tracked and wound up at crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S., including the site of a shootout on the U.S. side of the border that resulted in the death of Border Agent Brian Terry.

"Suspects continued to acquire weapons under ATF surveillance at an alarming rate," said the report compiled by staffers for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. "In the spring of 2010, concern was mounting among ATF leadership in Washington about the large volume of weapons being sold under Fast and Furious. The case became so large that ATF Deputy Director, William Hoover, requested an exit strategy for the case - something he had never done before."

The operation nonetheless continued into the fall of 2010. Federal agents lost track of about 1,400 of the more than 2,000 weapons - including AK-47s and other high-powered assault rifles.

The report said the former head of the ATF, Kenneth Melson, bore a significant measure of responsibility for failing to ensure that the agency's headquarters personnel adequately supervised the Phoenix field division, the report says. According to the report, Melson was concerned that Fast and Furious did not end sooner.

"He even offered to travel to Phoenix and write the indictments himself. Still, he never ordered it be shut down," said the report.

The report said Bill Newell, the special agent in charge in Phoenix for several years, was a major promoter of the strategy in Fast and Furious. But he failed to understand the basic legal standards needed for interdicting firearms and questioning potential suspects, a shortcoming that prevented interrogation, disruption and possible arrest of straw purchasers.

Deputy Assistant Director William McMahon knew that no operational safeguards were in place to prevent the firearms from traveling to Mexico, the report said, but he made no effort to stop the flow of guns, believing it was not his job to interfere in Newell's investigations.

Assistant Director Mark Chait and his superior, Hoover, had several opportunities to put an end to the operation but failed to do so.

The second report on Operation Fast and Furious will deal with the roles of the deputy attorney general's office and the Justice Department's criminal division, while the third report will deal with the roles of Attorney General Eric Holder and other top officials at the Justice Department in responding to the controversy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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