By Dan Freedman
WASHINGTON — Operation Fast and Furious was many things — flawed in design, incompetently managed and needlessly prolonged — but it was not an ATF and Justice Department conspiracy to lay the groundwork for more gun control laws, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said Thursday.
Horowitz answered questions before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which in conjunction with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has spent more than a year investigating the discredited Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation in Phoenix.
Unlike previous hearings in which Attorney General Eric Holder and GOP lawmakers who dominate the committee engaged in heated, vituperative exchanges, Horowitz’s appearance was a virtual love fest.
The inspector general won praise from committee Republicans and Democrats alike the day after his office released an exhaustive 471-page report that faulted ATF and the Justice Department for shoddy oversight of Fast and Furious while exonerating Holder.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called the report “extremely comprehensive, strong and independent.” But he insisted that if necessary, he would continue to pursue legal avenues to obtain the 100,000 or so pages of documents that formed the basis of the inspector general’s report.
In Fast and Furious, ATF agents in 2009 and 2010 followed orders to let drug-cartel-connected middlemen ferry weapons purchased in the Phoenix area to Mexican drug kingpins rather than interdicting them.
The aim was to build a case against higher-ups of the ruthless Sinaloa cartel. But Fast and Furious netted only small fry while up to 2,000 weapons, including AK-47s, were spirited into Mexico.
Two of the weapons were recovered at the murder site of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010, setting off a firestorm of controversy.
In an appearance Thursday on the Spanish-language network Univision, President Barack Obama expressed “complete confidence” in Holder, saying the attorney general “has shown himself to be accountable” by replacing ATF supervisors who directed the operation.
He called gun walking in Fast and Furious “completely wrongheaded.”
Among the Fast and Furious conspiracy theories popularized by gun-rights advocates and pro-gun commentators was that Holder and other Justice and Obama administration officials encouraged gun walking as a way of building a case for gun control, specifically a requirement that border-state firearms dealers tell ATF about multiple purchases of semiautomatic rifles greater than .22 caliber.
Horowitz said there was evidence Justice and ATF officials did, in fact, discuss the gun purchases in Fast and Furious as examples of the need for the multiple-purchase regulation.
“What we found is all of those instances came after the investigation had begun,” Horowitz said. “But we didn’t find evidence at the outset that (gun control) was driving (it).”