Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Inspector General Report on Operation Fast and Furious
Delivered Friday, September 21, 2012
***Click here for video of the speech.
Wednesday, the Inspector General for the Department of Justice issued his report on ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious.
This report is a significant milestone for the family of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
He was killed in a firefight with illegal aliens who were armed with illegal guns from Fast and Furious.
Attorney General Holder delayed any discipline for the officials responsible for Fast and Furious until after this report was released.
The time for accountability has finally come.
There are no more excuses for inaction.
The Inspector General’s non-partisan review confirmed virtually everything I heard from whistleblowers over the last year and a half.
The Justice Department tried to push all the blame on the ATF and officials in Phoenix.
But, the Inspector General confirmed that senior officials in Washington ignored red flag after red flag.
Senior officials in both the Justice Department and ATF knew or should have known that Operation Fast and Furious was putting guns into the hands of criminals.
But, they ignored the risks and failed to take steps to protect public safety.
The Inspector General also confirmed that there were major information-sharing failures between law enforcement agencies.
We are still going through the nearly 500 page report, as well as 309 pages of new documents that the Justice Department produced late Wednesday.
However, I was surprised to learn from the report that Attorney General Holder testified that he doesn’t remember the conversation with me about Fast and Furious in my office on January 31, 2011.
I remember that conversation.
My staff told the Attorney General that day what whistleblowers had told us.
Specifically, we discussed in that meeting that two weapons that ATF let go in Fast and Furious were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Terry.
I emphasized that I was personally bringing it to his attention because these were very serious and credible allegations, not a just run-of-the-mill letter.
Yet, even after that meeting, the Department didn’t take it seriously.
The Inspector General’s independent report says so explicitly:
“We do not believe that the gravity of this allegation was met with an equally serious effort by the Department to determine whether ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office had allowed the sale of hundreds of weapons to straw purchasers.”
The Justice Department claimed that its process for writing letters to Congress was sound.
But its February 4, 2011 response was false.
DOJ later withdrew it and claimed it relied on bad information from ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
However, the Inspector General agreed with me that the Justice Department’s response was seriously flawed—and not just the initial response.
The Inspector General also found that the Justice Department knew its initial reply wasn’t true when it reaffirmed the denial of the whistleblower allegations in a May 2, 2011 letter to me.
Instead of acknowledging that it was wrong, the Department repeatedly doubled-down on its denials.
For example, Attorney General Holder said on multiple occasions since November 2011 that the wiretap affidavits authorized by Justice Department headquarters did not put senior leadership on notice that ATF was walking guns.
Most recently, on June 7 of this year the Attorney General went before the House Judiciary Committee.
At this point, many Members of Congress had obtained and read the affidavits, even though the Justice Department did not want us to see them.
Members who reviewed them said that the affidavits contained evidence of gunwalking.
But, Attorney General Holder testified:
“I’ve looked at these affidavits. I’ve looked at these summaries. There’s nothing in those affidavits as I’ve reviewed them that indicates that gun walking was allowed.”
Well, now the Inspector General has read them too.
His independent, non-partisan conclusion is at odds with the Attorney General.
I quote from his report: “[T]he affidavits described specific incidents that would suggest…ATF was employing a strategy of not interdicting weapons or arresting known straw purchasers.”
In fact, much of the Inspector General’s report is redacted because those affidavits are still under seal.
Chairman Issa and I asked the Justice Department months ago to move to unseal them so the public could decide for themselves.
Now the Inspector General has joined us and is also calling on the Department to ask for permission from the court to release the affidavits.
The Justice Department should have filed that motion months ago.
Unsealing the affidavits will allow the American people and the Terry family to see the whole story.
The details in those affidavits show that senior officials knew or should have known about gunwalking in Fast and Furious.
The Inspector General independently confirmed this point, contrary to Attorney General Holder’s denials.
Those denials by the Attorney General show either incompetence or lack of truthfulness.
Congress created an explicit statutory duty for certain senior Justice Department officials to authorize all wiretap applications.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, who served directly under Criminal Division head Lanny Breuer, was one of the officials who approved some of those affidavits.
Senior officials like Mr. Weinstein tried to claim that they shouldn’t be held accountable because they only read memos summarizing the wiretaps—not the full wiretap applications.
But, the Inspector General found that Justice Department officials should review more than just the cover memo.
He said that under the statute they have a responsibility to be informed before authorizing wiretap applications.
Yet the Inspector General also found that even “a reader of the ... cover memorandum would infer from the facts that ATF agents did not take enforcement action to interdict the weapons or arrest [straw purchasers].”
So, the memo Mr. Weinstein admits he did read indicated that ATF had walked guns, according to the Inspector General.
Back in September of last year, Attorney General Holder said at a press conference:
“The notion that somehow or other this thing reaches into the upper levels of the Justice Department is something that…I don’t think is supported by the facts.”
Maybe the Attorney General doesn’t think someone who reports directly to the head of the Criminal Division is a senior official, but I do.
As a result of the Inspector General’s findings, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Weinstein has resigned.
Weinstein should be held accountable but he shouldn’t take the fall for more senior officials who are also culpable.
Mr. Weinstein reported directly to Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.
When the Justice Department sent its letter to me denying ATF ever walked guns, Breuer knew otherwise.
He knew in 2010 about gunwalking in another case, Operation Wide Receiver.
That was long before the allegations in Fast and Furious.
Yet he waited nine months before emails about Wide Receiver were about to be produced to Congress before he publicly apologized for not doing more about gunwalking in Wide Receiver.
I asked Breuer whether he had seen the draft of February 4 false letter to me.
Breuer testified: “I cannot say for sure whether I saw a draft of the letter that was sent to you.”
Then, a month after Breuer’s testimony, the Justice Department released more documents showing that Breuer was sent five drafts of the letter before it was sent to me.
He forwarded three of them to his personal email account.
Breuer still maintained in written responses that it was “highly unlikely” he had read the letter because he was in Mexico when it was sent.
On this matter, the Inspector General report contained a significant factual error.
The report read: “The OIG found no e-mail messages from Breuer in which he proposed edits, commented on the drafts, or otherwise indicated he had read them.”
That is not true.
In response to one of the drafts Breuer received, he commented that to Weinstein that it was “great work.”
That may not be a proposed edit, but it is certainly a comment.
Thus, Breuer’s statement to Congress is simply not credible.
Emails show that Breuer was very engaged in the process, asking for and receiving updates from Weinstein at each stage of the drafting.
Breuer and Weinstein sent multiple emails to each other on the matter each day, with Breuer asking after a quiet period: “Jason, let me know what’s happening with this.”
Rather than holding him accountable for this evidence, the Inspector General report gives him a pass.
Worse, new emails produced Wednesday show that Breuer was in the weeds about his deputy, Jason Weinstein, coming to brief Senate Judiciary Committee staff a week after the Justice Department’s false letter.
On February 13, 2011, Breuer sent an email about such details as what specific questions my staff asked of Weinstein at the briefing.
Breuer wrote: “The goal – and by all accounts it seems to have worked – was to communicate that ATF’s work in the AZ case and others like it reflected sound judgment and investigative work.”
It is clear that Breuer was in the weeds enough to know that what the Justice Department was communicating to me was undermined by the gunwalking he knew about in Wide Receiver.
He should have come forward in February 2011 and told Congress that he knew ATF had walked guns.
His failure to do so, coupled with his attempt to mislead Congress, are why I have called for him to resign or be fired.
Now Attorney General Holder has been saying for months that he would hold off on any personnel action until the Inspector General report was released.
Mr. Attorney General, it’s time to hold people accountable.
I’d like to close with language from a statement that the family of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry issued:
“The Department’s failures chronicled in the report had deadly and tragic consequences for hundreds of innocent American and Mexican victims of violent crimes.
“And our son, friend, relative and hero, Brian Terry, is dead.
“Questions and concerns should have been raised before the weapons purchased in this failed government sting wound up in the hands of drug dealers and killers, including those who killed Brian.
“The focus today should not be on political spin control nor on praise for the DOJ supervisors who chose to resign in light of the report's findings, but rather on the gross negligence of the Department documented in the report and the tragic consequences of that negligence.”