By Representative Tim Walberg
Last week, after an 18-month investigation, the Department of Justice's Inspector General (IG), Michael Horowitz, released his 471-page investigative report and findings on Operation Fast & Furious. While many in Washington lined up to claim victory and vindication, the details of the IG's findings present a sobering assessment of a Department of Justice (DOJ) and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that suffers from both failures in leadership and communication. It also underscored their unwillingness to work with Congress to discover the truth. The harsh reality of this negligence left a U.S. Border Patrol Agent and Michigan native, Brian Terry, dead and his family left wondering why it happened.
In his report, IG Horowitz criticized both the U.S. Attorney's office for the District of Arizona as well as senior DOJ officials who "bore a share of responsibility for ATF's knowing failure in both these operations to interdict firearms illegally destined for Mexico, and for doing so without adequately taking into account the danger to public safety that flowed from this risky strategy".
The report also found that information in wiretap applications contained major red flags showing these reckless tactics -- but were still approved by senior officials and never brought to Attorney General Eric Holder's attention.
At best, the attorney general's top lieutenants did not understand what they were signing off on. At worst, they saw the red flags, yet deemed them insignificant enough to bring to the attention of their superior. This in itself is just as troubling. Why did the Attorney General not know about an operation in his agency that carried on for months and resulted in the death of a federal agent and many Mexican citizens.
While the IG's report recommends disciplinary action for 14 people, Attorney General Holder still has not held all individuals involved accountable. He did announce, however, the immediate resignations of former acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein. While I am pleased there have been personnel changes made, I do not believe Attorney General Holder is being proactive enough to root out all the bad actors involved and ensure he is surrounding himself with accountable, trustworthy colleagues.
The DOJ has a continued responsibility to cooperate with the IG as he continues his investigation. A good place to start would be by agreeing to unseal the approved wiretap applications so the public can see the reckless tactics that senior officials ignored.
The DOJ should also recognize the service done by the brave whistleblowers that came forward and refrain from retaliation and retribution. Meanwhile, in order to regain trust in the DOJ, Attorney General Holder needs to restore accountability and credibility to his department. If the culture is not corrected, what confidence do we have that this debacle won't happen again?
While we cannot bring Agent Brian Terry back, we have a responsibility to him and his family to ensure such irresponsible decisions never happen again at the DOJ, ATF or any other federal agency.