An internal Justice Department probe into "Operation Fast and Furious" has concluded that while serious errors and systemic problems were uncovered, Attorney General Eric Holder was not at fault.
Under the operation, federal agents allowed illegal firearms sales to take place in hopes of tracking the guns to other criminals in the United States and Mexico.
Over the course of the investigation, hundreds of weapons went missing, many of which were later recovered at crime scenes, including one used in the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
The report by the inspector general of the Justice Department, the department's internal watchdog, found that there had been a systemic lack of controls and insufficient attention paid to risks to public safety along with a lack of oversight from agency headquarters.
Nevertheless, the report also found that Holder, who had come under Congressional scrutiny and criticism because of the operation, had not known of or approved the operation, which started in 2006.
Holder said in a statement that the report's conclusions were consistent with what he and other DOJ officials had said for many months - that the inappropriate strategy had been instituted from field offices in Arizona, that officials in Washington had not known about or authorized the strategy, nor had they attempted to hide information from Congressional investigators.
Shortly after concerns had been raised about the program, Holder said he had instituted major reforms adding, "I'm pleased that the OIG report appropriately recognizes these reforms."
Holder said that he had accepted the retirement of the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the resignation of a deputy assistant attorney general involved in the case, while referring others involved in the operation for possible future personnel actions.
Holder also took aim at some of his Congressional critics, who he said had been shown by the report to have jumped to erroneous conclusions.
"It is unfortunate that some were so quick to make baseless accusations before they possessed the facts about these operations - accusations that turned out to be without foundation and that have caused a great deal of unnecessary harm and confusion," he said. "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."
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, also claimed vindication by the report.
"The Inspector General's report confirms findings by Congress' investigation of a near total disregard for public safety in Operation Fast and Furious," he said in a written statement. "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."
He added, "Attorney General Holder has clearly known about these unacceptable failures yet has failed to take appropriate action for over a year and a half."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also released a statement Wednesday, noting that his initial review of the report confirmed that Holder had not known about the questionable tactics employed by the operation.
"I commend Attorney General Holder and the men and women at every level of the Justice Department for their dedication to protecting our country and enforcing our laws, and for cooperating fully with the Inspector General's investigation," Leahy said. "I remain concerned that the congressional investigation may have interfered with the Department's efforts to fight Mexican drug cartels and to bring criminal charges against people responsible for violence on our southern border and drained resources from the focus on law enforcement."
He added, "One of the best ways that Congress can honor their sacrifices is to continue to support the efforts of the thousands of Federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who are working tirelessly to protect our borders and keep all of us more secure."
by RTT Staff Writer
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