POLITICS

Report faults ATF officials for Fast and Furious

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Photo - Laura E. Duffy, United States Attorney Southern District of California, is flanked by wanted posters as she speaks at a news briefing where Duffy announces the indictment of five suspects related to the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, Monday, July 9, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz.  A reward of up to $1 million dollars for information leading to the arrest of  four fugitives was also announced by Department of Justice officials, on suspect is in custody.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Laura E. Duffy, United States Attorney Southern District of California, is flanked by wanted posters as she speaks at a news briefing where Duffy announces the indictment of five suspects related to the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, Monday, July 9, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. A reward of up to $1 million dollars for information leading to the arrest of four fugitives was also announced by Department of Justice officials, on suspect is in custody.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A congressional investigation on Tuesday faulted officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for operating a "reckless" gun-tracking operation that contributed to the killing of a federal agent and hundreds of Mexican citizens.

But the investigation concluded the Obama administration also bears responsibility for Operation Fast and Furious, which has been at the center of politically charged dispute between the White House and congressional Republicans.

"During the summer of 2009, the Obama administration created a new strategy to stem the flow of illegal weapons from the United States to Mexican drug cartels," the report notes. "Operation Fast and Furious was born from this strategy."

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's 210-page investigation is the first of three reports that Republican lawmakers plan to release in an effort to determine who should be held accountable for the gun-tracking operation that allowed thousands of guns to flow illegally into Mexico.

While ATF officials are named in Tuesday's report, the next installment "will look at the devastating failure of supervision and leadership by officials at Justice Department headquarters, principally within the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, and within the Criminal Division," lawmakers said.

The report comes a month after the Republican-led House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over thousands of pages of documents related to Fast and Furious.

The third report from congressional investigators "will address the unprecedented obstruction of the investigation by the highest levels of the Justice Department, including the Attorney General," the report said. That portion of the investigation will have to wait for civil contempt proceedings against Holder to conclude.

The Fast and Furious program, which began in Arizona in 2009, is tied to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and perhaps hundreds of Mexicans who were killed by American guns that ATF agents allowed to cross the border into the hands of Mexican drug dealers.

"ATF and the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office failed to consider and protect the safety of Americans, Mexicans, and fellow law enforcement personnel throughout Operation Fast and Furious," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., whose House Oversight and Government panel is jointly investigating Fast and Furious with a group of Senate Republicans.

Several ATF officials are named in the report as being principally responsible for setting up and operating Fast and Furious.

The report places much of the blame on ATF Special Agent in Charge William Newell and David Voth, a supervisor transferred to help Newell. The report concludes that Newell, with a "penchant for gun walking," and the inexperienced Voth, who had just arrived from Minnesota, "embarked on a risky and ultimately deadly path."

Both men still work at the ATF, the report notes.

The Justice Department issued a response Tuesday disputing that the Fast and Furious tactics stemmed from Obama administration policies and pointing out that the report acknowledges the flawed operation originated in Arizona under weak ATF leadership.

"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," DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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