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ATF Officials Blamed in Fast and Furious Case, Report Says

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July 31 (Bloomberg) -- Five officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were singled out in a Republican congressional report for the failures of a U.S. law enforcement gun operation.

The report released today blamed the agency’s former acting director along with other employees for failures in Fast and Furious, a law enforcement operation that allowed illegal gun purchases in the U.S. in an effort to link the weapons to Mexican drug cartels. Two of about 2,000 guns that ATF allowed to be carried away were found at the scene of the December 2010 murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in Arizona.

“From the outset, the case was marred by missteps, poor judgments, and an inherently reckless strategy,” the 211-page report said.

Drafted by the staffs of Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, the report is the latest step in a congressional probe that led the House for the first time to hold a Cabinet member in contempt of Congress. Attorney General Eric Holder was cited in June by lawmakers for failing to turn over certain documents related to the Fast and Furious operation.

“Testimony and a persistent reluctance to fully cooperate make clear that many officials at ATF and the Department of Justice would have preferred to quietly sweep this matter under the rug,” Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement.

‘Devastating Failure’

Republican lawmakers are working on two additional reports, which will focus on the Justice Department’s role in the operation, including what the Republican report calls “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.”

“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,” Tracy Schmaler, the Justice Department’s spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Red Flags

The first report focuses on the failures of ATF officials in Washington and Arizona, where the operation was run in 2009 and 2010. Each of the officials named -- including Kenneth Melson, the ATF’s acting director during the operation, and William Newell, special agent in charge of the Phoenix Field Division -- has since been reassigned.

Issues identified in the report include ignoring red flags raised by other ATF officials, missing opportunities to end the operation in its early stages in order to hold out for a bigger case and failures from senior leadership to supervise the operation, according to the report.

“The ATF wasted time, money and resources on wiretaps and put agents in harm’s way trying to learn about the links that other agencies had already made,” Grassley said in a statement.

The report is the result of an 18-month investigation that has included two prior interim reports, transcribed interviews with 24 officials, reviews of more than 10,000 documents and four full committee hearings, the report said.

“This report is not intended to imply in any way that the mistakes and responsibility for Operation Fast and Furious are limited to ATF and other federal officials who were based in Arizona,” the report said, referring to its upcoming reports on the Justice Department.

To contact the reporter on this story: Phil Mattingly in Washington at pmattingly@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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