Breaking News Blog

Wednesday, Sep 19 2012 12:31 PM

Justice Dept faulted in gun-trafficking operation

BY PETE YOST Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department's internal watchdog on Wednesday faulted the agency for misguided strategies, errors in judgment and management failures during a bungled gun-trafficking probe in Arizona that resulted in hundreds of weapons turning up at crime scenes in the U.S. and Mexico.

Two senior officials left the department, one by resignation and one by retirement, upon release of the report.

In a 471-page report, Inspector General Michael Horowitz referred more than a dozen people for possible department disciplinary action for their roles in Operation Fast and Furious and a separate, earlier probe known as Wide Receiver, undertaken during the George W. Bush administration. The report did not criticize Attorney General Eric Holder, but said lower-level officials should have briefed him about the investigation much earlier.

The report found no evidence that Holder was informed about the Fast and Furious operation before Jan. 31, 2011, or that the attorney general was told about the much-disputed gun-walking tactic employed by the department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The inspector general found fault with the work of the senior ATF leadership, the ATF staff and U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix and senior officials of Justice's criminal division in Washington. He also said that poor internal information-gathering and drafting at Justice and ATF caused the department to initially misinform Congress about Fast and Furious.

One of those criticized in the report, former ATF acting director Kenneth Melson, who headed that office during the Fast and Furious investigation, retired upon release of the report.

"Melson made too many assumptions about the case," the report said. "Melson should have asked basic questions about the investigation, including how public safety was being protected."

Another of those criticized, Justice Department career attorney Jason Weinstein, resigned. Weinstein was a deputy assistant attorney general in Justice's criminal division in Washington.

"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," the report said.

Weinstein's lawyer, Michael Bromwich, called the report's criticism "profoundly wrong" and "deeply flawed."

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