Fast & Furious: Denouement

September 19th, 2012

The Office of the Inspector General has released its findings on the Fast & Furious debacle. The short version? Everybody short of Attorney General Eric Holder has egg on the face. The report finds that Holder himself was unaware of the operation until February of 2011.

In the wake of the report, former Acting Director Kenneth Melson announced his retirement, and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein resigned. Aside from the ATF Phoenix division staff, he seems to bear the brunt of the investigation's ire.

And what of Holder? He fired back today about the "baseless accusations" leading to his contempt charge from Congress, and in the eyes of the public, he's right. The Democrats claimed that Issa's investigation was a partisan witch-hunt, and this report validates that assertion.

The report calls for a wide swath of disciplinary action, though I'm not expecting much. To this day, not a single government agent has been held responsible for Brian Terry's death.

I have the whole thing mirrored here [4Mb pdf]. Their findings start on page 440, and I've condensed them below.

Phoenix Field Divison

While we found no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization, we concluded that the conduct and supervision of the investigations was significantly flawed.

Special Agent Brandon Garcia:

We determined that Garcia was poorly supervised by Higman, who himself lacked the judgment and operational experience to lead an investigation like Operation Wide Receiver, and that Garcia did not have adequate guidance in conducting the investigation.

RAC Charles Higman:

Based upon our interviews and review of relevant documents, we determined that Higman lacked the operational experience to conduct a complex firearms trafficking investigation and failed to adequately consider the public safety risks of the tactics used. We also concluded that Higman failed to provide responsible supervision of the investigation.

Special Agent Hope MacAllister:

In sum, we concluded that MacAllister’s early decisions in the case and her failure to reassess the investigative approach as the case progressed reflected a lack of urgency that was incompatible with the risk to public safety the Operation Fast and Furious subjects were creating.

Group Supervisor Voth:

We concluded that the investigative goal and approach in Operation Fast and Furious, which Voth reaffirmed on multiple occasions during the course of the case, drove the lack of overt action against the straw purchasers, including making seizures and arrests. We did not find persuasive evidence to support Voth’s claim that this approach and ATF’s continued adherence to it in the face of alarming purchasing activity was solely grounded in disputes with Hurley’s legal guidance during the case. In fact, if Voth truly felt the frustration during the case that he asserted to us with respect to seizures and arrests, his deficiencies as a supervisor were even more significant because we did not find persuasive evidence that his managers at ATF or those responsible for the case at the U.S. Attorney’s Office were made aware of these misgivings. Instead, Voth’s communications to these individuals reflected his full support for the case and his belief that “we are righteous in our plan to dismantle this entire organization and to rush in to arrest any one person without taking into account the entire scope of the conspiracy would be ill advised to the overall good of the mission.”

ASAC Gillett:

In short, we concluded that Gillett endorsed a strategy in Operation Fast and Furious that lacked adequate measures to minimize the risk to public safety in the United States and Mexico created by the subjects’ trafficking and that did not include any plan to reassess the decision to allow transfers of firearms to continue. In doing so, Gillett failed to provide responsible supervision of Operation Fast and Furious

SAC William Newell:

SAC Newell also bore ultimate responsibility for the failures in Operation Fast and Furious, particularly in light of his close involvement with the office’s highest profile and most resource-intensive case. Like Gillett, Newell supported the strategy adopted in the case, and was also acutely aware that its most challenging aspect was the large volume of firearms being trafficked. Further, like Gillett, Newell did not consider any measures to minimize the risk to the public created by the Operation Fast and Furious subjects or prompt reassessment of the strategy despite the compelling evidence the investigation accumulated.


Overall, we found that SAC Newell’s conduct with respect to Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious was irresponsible, and that he failed to provide the leadership and judgment required of a Special Agent in Charge.

United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona

We concluded that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona shared equal responsibility for the conduct of Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hurley:

Under these circumstances, we believe that Hurley and his management should have recognized the need to add additional resources to this phase of the case to ensure that it was prioritized. They did not, and we believe failing to do so was a contributing factor to the multiple delays in obtaining the indictment.

Section Chief Morrissey:

We believe it was incumbent on Morrissey to exercise close supervision over this proactive investigation in order to stay informed about the progress of the case so he could assess whether there should be any alterations to the strategy. We concluded that Morrissey failed to provide responsible supervision of Operation Fast and Furious.

Former Criminal Chief Cunningham:

In short, the information about Operation Fast and Furious that Cunningham received described a significant and innovative investigation of an active firearms trafficking group that had already spent $500,000, and that agents intended to continue investigating through wiretaps in order to identify key figures in the conspiracy and determine how firearms were being transported into Mexico. We believe this information was sufficiently significant to prompt greater engagement in the case by Cunningham, including asking questions about plans for enforcement action against any of the subjects and, if none, the public safety implications of that approach. The fact that Cunningham told us that he was not aware of the number of firearms purchased, and did not ask, confirmed to us that his oversight of the investigation was deficient.

Former U.S. Attorney Burke:

We believe that Burke received sufficient information about the nature and scope of the investigation that he should have ensured the case received close supervision that included regular reassessments of the state of the evidence and the measures that were being or should have been taken to address the risk to public safety created by the subjects’ ongoing firearms trafficking. We concluded that Burke failed to exercise responsible oversight and failed to provide the leadership and judgment required of a United States Attorney.

ATF Headquarters

Former Deputy Assistant Director McMahon:

Of all ATF Headquarters executives, McMahon was most familiar with Operation Fast and Furious during 2009 and 2010 and was best situated to influence its development. His duties included oversight of the Phoenix Field Division and its investigations, he was Newell’s primary point of contact at ATF Headquarters regarding the investigation, and, as we discovered, he played a pivotal role in determining whether certain key information about it was disseminated to his supervisors.

We determined that McMahon’s oversight of the Phoenix Field Division’s handling of Operation Fast and Furious was wholly inadequate. We found that he did not attempt to oversee the investigation in an active way even though he described it to us as ATF’s most significant firearms trafficking investigation on the Southwest Border. Although his initial instincts in the case were to have agents interrogate some of the leading straw purchasers, he capitulated to Newell’s multi-layered explanation about why that was a bad idea and then failed to revisit the issue again and press Newell on the point. Overall, McMahon seemed reluctant to bring his years of agent experience to bear on the case and instead was content to support Newell. That approach was a mistake in Operation Fast and Furious.

Former Assistant Director Chait:

Although we believe that McMahon committed serious errors and at times failed to inform Chait and other ATF executives about significant developments in Operation Fast and Furious, we found that Chait also shares substantial responsibility for the significant lapses in ATF Headquarters’ oversight.

Former Deputy Director Hoover:

As with Melson, Hoover’s failure to adequately inform himself about Operation Fast and Furious resulted in his presenting Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler with an incomplete briefing on Operation Fast and Furious in March 2010. Hoover also failed to provide any updated briefings to Grindler even after developing significant concerns about the case.

We found that Hoover’s response to Agent Terry’s murder was deficient. We believe that he should have sought detailed information about the investigation after he learned about the connection between the firearms found at the murder scene and Operation Fast and Furious. If he had done so, he would have discovered from reviewing the materials that “gun walking” occurred in the investigation and would have been better prepared to answer questions from the Department in January and February 2011.

Former Acting Director Melson:

We are critical of Melson in several important respects. First, we believe that as an experienced federal prosecutor, he should have recognized by the time of his briefing on Operation Fast and Furious in March 2010 that the fundamentals of the investigation (the amount of time the investigation had been open, the level of proactive investigative activity, and the number of firearms that were involved) pointed toward needed enforcement action – at a minimum ATF-initiated seizures – that were lacking and therefore required explanation.


Second, Melson participated in an incomplete briefing for Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler in March 2010 concerning Operation Fast and Furious. We determined that by the time of this briefing Melson had received sufficient information about the scope and significance of Operation Fast and Furious that he should have been asking probing questions about the strategy in the case and whether efforts were being made to minimize the risk to public safety. As a result of his failing to do so, he provided incomplete information about Operation Fast and Furious to Grindler.


Third, we believe that Melson was ineffective in addressing concerns he had over delays with closure and indictment of the case. He never complained to Burke, and we found no e-mails or other documents corroborating his statement that he may have complained to staff in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. Although we acknowledge that Melson took some steps to mitigate the delays, such as offering to send ATF attorneys to Phoenix, asking Chait about the status of the case, and contacting the Criminal Division about his concerns, we believe that Melson’s omissions perpetuated an approach towards Operation Fast and Furious that lacked sufficient urgency.

Finally, even after Agent Terry was murdered in December 2010 and the firearms found at the scene were found to be connected to Operation Fast and Furious, Melson took no significant action within ATF other than to ask for information about Avila’s role in the investigation. We believe Melson should have initiated a review of the investigation after he learned about the connection.

DOJ Leadership

Former Deputy Chief of Staff Wilkinson:

We found that Former Deputy Chief of Staff Wilkinson learned from U.S. Attorney Burke on December 15, 2010, that two firearms recovered at the Terry murder scene were linked to an ATF firearms trafficking investigation, but failed to notify the Attorney General of this fact. Holder told us that he did not learn of the link until early 2011, around the time he first became aware of Operation Fast and Furious. Wilkinson should have promptly informed the Attorney General of the link given that the information implicated significant Department interests.

Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler:

We determined that Grindler learned on December 17, 2010, of the link between weapons found at the Terry murder scene and Operation Fast and Furious but did not inform the Attorney General about this information. We believe that he should have informed the Attorney General as well as made an appropriate inquiry of ATF or the U.S. Attorney’s Office about the connection.

Assistant Attorney General Breuer:

However, as we described in Chapters Three and Five, in April 2010 Breuer learned about Operation Wide Receiver and that ATF had allowed guns to “walk” in that case. Breuer told us that upon learning this information, he told Deputy Assistant Attorney General Weinstein to talk to ATF leadership to make sure that they understood that the Criminal Division planned to move forward with the case, but that the investigation had used “obviously flawed” techniques. Given the significance of this issue and the fact that ATF reports to the Deputy Attorney General, we believe Breuer should have promptly informed the Deputy Attorney General or the Attorney General about the matter in April 2010. Breuer failed to do so.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Weinstein:

We found that given his level of knowledge about Operation Fast and Furious and his familiarity with the “gun walking” tactics employed by ATF in Operation Wide Receiver, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Weinstein was the most senior person in the Department in April and May 2010 who was in a position to identify the similarity between the inappropriate tactics used in Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious.

1 Comment
  1. Chase wrote, running Mozilla Firefox 15.0.1 on Windows 7

    Thank you very much for this condensation and summary.

    Comment on September 19, 2012 @ 6:51 pm

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