Republican Congressional leaders release findings in ATF Fast and Furious investigation

PHOENIX - More than a month after voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt of Congress, Republican Congressional leaders, who spent more than a year investigating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives' controversial Fast and Furious case , released some of their findings Tuesday in the f irst of three reports about the flawed gun walking scandal .

The report provides internal emails and other Department of Justice documents and details how the Fast and Furious case started. It also shows which Arizona officials were involved in the strategy that allowed criminals to access weapons while ATF agents admitted to looking the other way.

"From the outset, the case was marred by missteps, poor judgments, and an inherently reckless strategy," investigators reported in a 211-page document released jointly by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

ARIZONA OFFICIALS INVOLVEMENT

Investigators called the mistakes made by Arizona officials "immense."  They referred to the actions of Bill Newell, the Special Agent in Charge of the ATF in Phoenix, as "push( ing) the envelope."

"He had been reprimanded…before for crossing the line, but under a new Administration and new Attorney General he reverted back to the use of risky gun walking tactics," they wrote in the report.

Newell's attorney, Paul Pelletier, told the ABC15 Investigators the following:

Bill, has consistently maintained that there was never a plan or tactic to "walk guns," and that the ATF agents seized guns when they were lawfully permitted to do so by the United States Attorney's Office. The absence of such a tactic was recently confirmed in an exhaustive investigation by Fortune Magazine. Chairman Issa has persistently shown that he won't let the truth get in the way of this Quixotic political witch hunt. This report continues that trend and serves to arrogantly demean all of the dedicated law enforcement officers who, using the laws at their disposal, seek to make a difference every day.

Within the report, Congressional investigators singled out several ATF officials by name, explaining their roles in the Fast and Furious case and placing blame on several high-ranking ATF leaders.

The report accused Mark Chait the ATF Assistant Director of Field Operations of playing a "surprisingly passive role during the operation," and failing "to provide the supervisory oversight that his experience should have dictated and his position required."

William McMahon, the Deputy Assistant Director of for Field Operations, is accused of "rubber stamp( ing)" critical documents pertaining to the Fast and Furious investigation that came across his desk without reading them. 

Deputy Director William Hoover is blamed for failing to end the strategies that contributed to the flawed case.  "Though he ordered the Fast and Furious exit strategy, William Hoover failed to make certain the strategy was executed," they wrote in the report. "Hoover was derelict in his duty to ensure that public safety was not jeopardized during Operation Fast and Furious.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE RESPONDS

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice responded to the report by defending the Attorney General and his role in the case.

"The report…does signal a notable shift in that the Committee finally acknowledges what the Attorney General and other Department officials have been saying from the beginning – that the flaws in this operation, and in previous ones, had their origins in the field in Arizona and occurred, in part, due to weak oversight by ATF leadership," Tracy Schmaler, a DOJ spokesperson, said.

"That is why --last year -- the Attorney General removed and reassigned the head of ATF and ensured that other officials who supervised and had responsibility for this operation were also reassigned. The Attorney General also ensured that reforms were instituted at ATF to provide stronger oversight of significant investigations to prevent such tactics from being used again," she wrote.

Schmaler also criticized Rep. Darrell Issa, the Chairman of the House Committee that prepared this report.

"Predictably, this Republican report reiterates many of the distortions and now-debunked conspiracy theories that Rep. Issa has been advancing for a year and a half, including the fiction that the flawed tactics used in Fast and Furious were somehow the brainchild of the current Administration as opposed to the reality that the pattern of flawed tactics dates back to 2006 and the prior Administration. 

"If Rep. Issa wants to continue to spend precious resources recycling old conspiracy theories for stale reports that do nothing to improve public safety that is his prerogative.  The Attorney General believes that there is important work to be done for the American people and that partisan exercises like Rep. Issa's latest effort do little to address the serious issues that face our country."

THE HISTORY

Phoenix

ATF agents testified they knowingly allowed weapons to slip into the hands of straw buyers who would then distribute the weapons to known criminals.

The strategy was designed to lead ATF officials to key drug players in Mexico, but some agents admitted they never fully tracked the weapons after suspicious buyers purchased them.

"It made no sense to us either, it was just what we were ordered to do, and every time we questioned that order there was punitive action," Phoenix Special Agent John Dodson testified.

According to the testimony of three Phoenix ATF agents, including Dodson, hundreds of weapons are now on the streets in the United States and Mexico, possibly in the hands of criminals.

"…Fast and Furious was one case from one group in one field division," he testified. He estimated agents in the Phoenix field division "facilitated the sale of" approximately 2,500 weapons to straw purchasers. A few hundred have been recovered.

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