The Department of Justice Inspector General's report on the "Fast and Furious" scandal was released this week, and while it found 14 officials from the department and its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives responsible for the reckless program, it failed, unfortunately, to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. responsible for the actions of those under his supervision.
The report provides a valuable account of the operation and the department's response, concluding that the operation "quickly grew into an investigation that lacked realistic objectives, did not have appropriate supervision within ATF or the U.S. Attorney's Office, and failed to adequately assess the public safety consequences" of letting guns flow freely into Mexico.
Even the New York Times, one of the leading media supporters of President Obama and an avid opponent of gun owners' rights, said in an editorial that "The recklessness of federal officials in their harebrained scheme to assist in illegal gunrunning to Mexican drug cartels was laid bare in a scathing report by the Justice Department's inspector general. ...Something as half‑baked as Operation Fast and Furious should never have been concocted in the name of law enforcement."
But the report also begs the question of who is actually in charge at the Department of Justice if such a program can be conducted for more a year, supposedly without the knowledge or approval of senior officials and the Attorney General himself.
The report calls for action to be taken against 14 lower-level agents and officials, but allows higher-ups to stand by their claims that they did not know about the operation until February 2011. But information already received by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee shows affidavits for wiretaps that, according to Inspector General Michael Horowitz, should have led to further scrutiny by senior officials. "If you were focused and looking at the question of gunwalking," Horowitz said before the Oversight Committee this week, "you would read these reports and see many red flags."
In his statement on the report, Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said: "It's time for President Obama to step in and provide accountability for officials at both the Department of Justice and ATF who failed to do their jobs. Attorney General Holder has clearly known about these unacceptable failures yet has failed to take appropriate action for over a year and a half."
We agree with Chairman Issa. The Attorney General of the United States cannot simply claim he did not know. It was his fundamental responsibility to know what was being done under his leadership. That point was hinted at this week by former ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson, who was also faulted in the report and retired from his subsequent DOJ job after the report was issued. In a statement, Melson correctly admitted that "as the acting director of the agency I was ultimately responsible for the actions of each employee."
We've said it before and we'll say it again: For stonewalling the congressional investigation of "Fast and Furious" and for his failure to stop the operation, or even take responsibility for it, Eric Holder should be fired.