The investigators, in a final report likely to be released later this week, also unearthed new evidence that agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix initially sought to hide from the Mexican government the crucial information that two Fast and Furious firearms were recovered after the brother of a Mexican state attorney general was killed there.
According to a copy of the report obtained Monday by The Times, the investigators said their findings are “the best information available as of now” about the flawed gun operation that last month led to Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. being found in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over subpoenaed documents.
Two more final reports, they said, will deal with “the devastating failure of supervision and leadership” at the Department of Justice and an “unprecedented obstruction of the [congressional] investigation by the highest levels of theJustice Department, including the attorney general himself.”
The first report did allege some Justice Department involvement, however, notably that Kenneth E. Melson, then acting ATF director, was made into a “scapegoat” for Fast and Furious after he told congressional Republicans his Justice Department supervisors “were doing more damage control than anything” else once Fast and Furious became public.
“My view is that the whole matter of the department’s response in this case was a disaster,” Melson told the investigators.
Fast and Furious, which allowed some 2,500 illegal gun sales in Arizona with the hope that agents would track the weapons to Mexican drug cartels, began in fall 2009 and was halted after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010. By then, most of the weapons had been lost, and two were recovered at the scene of his slaying.
The five ATF managers, since moved to other positions, have either defended Fast and Furious in congressional testimony or refused to discuss it. They could not be reached for comment Monday. At the Justice Department, senior officials, including Holder, have steadfastly maintained that Fast and Furious was confined to the Arizona border region and that Washington was never aware of the flawed tactics.
The joint staff report, authored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on theSenate Judiciary Committee, was highly critical of the ATF supervisors.
They found that William Newell, the special agent-in-charge in Phoenix, exhibited “repeatedly risky” .......