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Entries in Fast and Furious (5)

Wednesday
Sep192012

'Fast and Furious' Probe Clears Holder, Faults ATF and Justice Department

Chris Graythen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- "Operation Fast and Furious," the controversial undercover operation that allowed U.S. guns to be walked into Mexico, was a "risky strategy" that did not "adequately take into account the significant danger to public safety that it created."

That was the conclusion Wednesday from the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Justice, after an investigation that spanned more than a year and a half.

The OIG investigation found that Attorney General Eric Holder was not aware of the strategy and tactics used in "Fast and Furious," and turned up no evidence that Holder tried to cover up the operation, or mislead Congress about it. Holder was held in contempt of Congress earlier this year for allegedly withholding documents about DOJ's "Fast and Furious" investigation from congressional investigators.

In a statement Wednesday, Holder said, "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."

The IG report did find that a misleading letter that the DOJ sent to Congress was "troubling" because senior officials who were involved in drafting it knew, or should have known, that reckless behavior had occurred.

The political combat triggered by the flawed undercover operation played out in a series of contentious hearings on Capitol Hill in the past year. Behind the battles, the OIG found, was an undercover operation to catch gun-runners on the Southwest border that quickly turned bad.

Some of the 2,000 guns that made their way into Mexico as a result of "Operation Fast and Furious" were later recovered at crime scenes, including two found at the scene of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

The "Fast and Furious" strategy called for agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to conduct surveillance and review phone and financial records to track guns they believed to be going to Mexican drug lords, who could then be arrested. But ATF lost track of most of the guns, few arrests were made, and yet "the purchasing activity by Operation Fast and Furious subjects continued unabated, individuals who had engaged in serious and dangerous criminal conduct remained at large, and the public was put in harm's way."

The OIG investigation "revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures that permeated ATF Headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona and at the Headquarters of the Department of Justice."

The report also details serious mistakes in DOJ's response to congressional inquiries about "Fast and Furious."

The Inspector General's review has recommended 14 Justice Department and ATF officials for disciplinary and administrative review, including the head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

As a result of the OIG findings, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein resigned his post Wednesday. The OIG report charged that Weinstein, a senior aide to Breuer, did not adequately share critical information about "Fast and Furious," and its predecessor operation, "Wide Receiver," with top DOJ officials.

Because that information did not reach the attorney general, more aggressive oversight of the operation did not occur, and misinformation was passed on to Congress, according to the OIG report. Weinstein and his attorney vigorously denied any wrongdoing, saying Weinstein did not receive the key information he needed from the agents carrying out the operation. The former acting director of ATF during the operation, Kenneth Melson, on Wednesday retired from the Department of Justice, effective immediately.

The report was highly critical of William Newell, the former special agent in charge of the Phoenix field office. "Newell also bore ultimate responsibility for the failures in Operation Fast and Furious," the review found, citing his leadership position and involvement in the case.

Newell is working at ATF Headquarters in Washington.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the leading congressional critics of DOJ's handing of "Fast and Furious," issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "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. And, 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. It's clear that both the ATF and the Justice Department failed to provide meaningful oversight of Operation Fast and Furious."

The OIG report also detailed the mistakes that lead to the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry: "On January 16, 2010, one of the straw purchasers purchased three AK-47 style rifles from a Phoenix-area gun store. ATF agents learned about that purchase 3 days later and, consistent with the investigative strategy in the case, made no effort to locate (the purchaser) or seize the rifles although ATF had identified the suspect in November 2009. Two of the three rifles purchased by (the suspect) on January 16 were recovered 11 months later at the scene of the murder of Agent Terry, who was shot and killed on December 14, 2010, as he tried to arrest persons believed to be illegally entering the United States ... "

The day after Agent Terry's death, ATF agents arrested that suspect, Jaime Avila, and later 20 more alleged gun buyers and traffickers. As of Sept. 1, 2012, 14 defendants, including Avila, had entered guilty pleas to one or more counts of the indictment. In all, "Fast and Furious" identified more than 40 subjects believed to be connected to a trafficking conspiracy responsible for purchasing more than 2,000 firearms for about $1.5 million in cash. The vast majority of the firearms purchased by "Operation Fast and Furious" subjects were AK-47 style rifles and FN Herstal 5.7 caliber pistols.

The OIG report also noted, "What began as an important and promising investigation of serious firearms trafficking along the Southwest Border that was developed through the efforts of a short-staffed ATF enforcement group quickly grew into an investigation that lacked realistic objectives, did not have appropriate supervision within ATF or the U.S. Attorney's Office, and failed to adequately assess the public safety consequences of not stopping or controlling the alarming purchasing activity."

The report indicates that the OIG reviewed more than 100,000 documents and interviewed more than 130 witnesses, many on multiple occasions.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said, "We operated with complete and total independence in our search for the truth, and the decision about what to cover in this report and the conclusions that we reached were made solely by me and my office."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug012012

House Report Cites Five Former ATF Officials in Fast and Furious Operation

David De Lossy/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House and Senate must improve the leadership of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to a draft report that was critical of the government's botched "Operation Fast and Furious" that resulted in hundreds of guns falling into criminal hands.

The report, prepared by California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, cited five one-time ATF officials in particular for instituting the gun-tracking operation and then failing to stop it after things went wrong.

Those named were former Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division William Newell, former Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon, former Assistant Director for Field Operations Mark Chait, the former Deputy Director William Hoover, and former acting ATF director Kenneth Melson.

The ATF first allowed up to 2,000 firearms to cross the border into Mexico in order to find violent criminals involved in gun trafficking and drug cartels.  However, many of those weapons were misplaced and two turned up at the murder scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

The Justice Department initially denied knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious and then admitted it was aware of the program.  Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before numerous congressional committees to testify about what he knew and is currently being held in contempt by the House for not turning over documents requested by Issa.

Two other reports from congressional Republicans are due that will allege further missteps by the Justice Department's criminal division and the office of the attorney general.  Holder and members of the Obama administration have called the probes a "witch-hunt."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul092012

Feds Offer $1 Million Reward for Alleged 'Fast and Furious' Killers

John Moore/Getty Images(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- Justice Department officials Monday offered $1 million for the capture of the five Mexican "border bandits" who killed Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry with an ATF-sourced weapon in the mountains south of Tucson.

Agent Terry's death has been at the center of the Congressional investigation into a botched ATF gun-smuggling investigation dubbed "Fast and Furious." Two weapons linked to the shooting of Agent Terry made it into criminal hands as a result of that operation, which sought to track smuggled guns to drug cartel kingpins. A dispute between Congressional investigators and the Justice Department over "Fast and Furious" documents led to Attorney General Eric Holder being held in contempt of Congress last month.

But despite all the controversy, the details of how Agent Terry was killed have never been revealed until Monday.

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At a news conference in Tucson, Justice Department officials said that on December 14, 2010, Agent Terry and his Border Patrol team were trying to intercept five men who had crossed into the U.S. from Mexico and tripped electronic sensors planted in the southern Arizona desert. The federal agents confronted the men, opening fire with beanbags, not bullets.

It turned out the men were "border bandits," armed gangsters who rob drug smugglers. The bandits returned fire, and in the firefight, Agent Terry was killed. One of the bandits was shot in the foot, and taken into custody, but four other suspects escaped while agents were tending to Agent Terry.

On Monday an indictment charging five individuals involved in the death of Agent Terry was unsealed in Tucson, and a reward of up to $1 million from the FBI for information leading to the arrest of four fugitives was announced by Department of Justice officials.

According to the indictment, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza are charged with crimes including first degree murder, second degree murder, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, attempted interference with commerce by robbery, use and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, assault on a federal officer and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. A sixth defendant, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, is charged only with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery.

In addition to the murder of Agent Terry, the indictment also alleges that the five defendants assaulted Border Patrol agents William Castano, Gabriel Fragoza and Timothy Keller, who were with Agent Terry during the firefight.

"Brian Terry was truly an agent's agent," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Laura E. Duffy said at the press conference Monday. Duffy promised Terry's family "the very best" her office had to offer. "We will not rest until these individuals are brought to justice."

"Agent Terry served his country honorably and made the ultimate sacrifice in trying to protect it from harm, and we will stop at nothing to bring those responsible for his murder to justice," said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement. "This investigation has previously resulted in one defendant being charged with Agent Terry's murder and taken into custody, and today's announcement reflects the department's unrelenting commitment to finding and arresting the other individuals responsible for this horrific tragedy so that Agent Terry's family, friends and fellow law enforcement agents receive the justice they deserve."

"U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry made the ultimate sacrifice in December of 2010, while protecting our border," stated James L. Turgal Jr., FBI Special Agent in Charge, Phoenix Division. "Today's announcement is an important step forward in the pursuit of justice for Border Patrol Agent Terry and his family. It is our hope that the publicity surrounding this case will lead to information concerning the whereabouts of the remaining four fugitives."

Manuel Osorio-Arellanes has been in custody since his arrest the night of the shooting. Rito Osorio-Arellanes has been in custody since Dec. 12, 2010, when he was arrested by Border Patrol agents on immigration charges. The indictment is being unsealed Monday in order to seek the public's assistance in locating the four fugitive defendants.

This case is being prosecuted in federal court in Tucson by attorneys from the Southern District of California, Special Attorneys Todd W. Robinson, David D. Leshner, and Fred A. Sheppard. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona is recused, because of its involvement in the "Fast and Furious" operation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun282012

House Votes to Hold Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt of Congress

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The House of Representatives has voted in favor of a resolution to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for withholding certain documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation.

Led by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, 108 Democrats skipped the vote, storming out of the chamber in protest.

The measure passed 255-67, with one member voting “present.” Seventeen of the Democrats who didn’t walk out voted with the Republican majority to hold Holder in contempt of Congress. Two Republicans, Reps. Steven LaTourette of Ohio and Scott Rigell of Virginia, opposed the resolution.

The vote marks the first time in the history of Congress that it has found a sitting U.S. attorney general -- our nation's highest ranking law enforcement officer -- in contempt of Congress.

Congressional GOP sources say the committee will now work with the House general counsel to pursue the case in federal court and ultimately compel Holder to hand over the documents.
 
“We are still fighting for the truth and accountability -- for the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, for whistleblowers who have faced retaliation, and for countless victims of Operation Fast and Furious in Mexico,” Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform committee, said in a statement after the vote.  “Unless President Obama relents to this bipartisan call for transparency and an end to the cover-up, our fight will move to the courts where we will prevail in getting the documents that the Justice Department and President Obama’s flawed assertion of executive privilege have denied the American people.”
 
Historically, contempt of Congress has been enforced by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, but sources predicted that path is unlikely this time since it concerns the attorney general, an unprecedented case of contempt of Congress.

Copyright 2012 ABC  News Radio

Monday
Jun252012

No Fast and Furious Cover-Up, Obama Aide Claims

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Asked about the President’s assertion of executive privilege in the Congressional investigation of the Fast and Furious matter, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney quickly jumped on what committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told Fox News over the weekend: that “there is no evidence, let me repeat no evidence, of White House involvement in any cover up or attempt to cover up this issue,” Carney said.

Critics of the administration have summarized the furor over the now "frozen" material by asking if the administration has nothing to hide, why did President Obama use executive privilege to lock down the documents Issa requested?

Carney, speaking to reporters on board Air Force One, repeated that the Department of Justice and the attorney general have provided an enormous number of documents to the committee investigating the Fast and Furious program and that the attorney general has testified repeatedly about this matter -- though the Department of Justice decided to withdraw some of the documents entered as testimony as innacurate. The program involved shipping guns over the border to Mexico to drug dealers but the government quickly lost track of the guns. The weapons have beeen linked to the deaths of an unknown number of Mexicans, and U.S. Border Agent Brian Terry.

Carney insisted the material being kept from Issa have nothing to do with the growing scandal. “All of the documents under executive privilege are after the Feb 4th date where -- beyond which these documents are simply kind of internal deliberative documents that every administration should be able to keep private,” Carney said, adding that the administration remains ready to try to resolve this issue in a way that is satisfactory to both sides.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







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