Attorney General Holder Admits Errors in ATF’s Fast and Furious Operation

Attorney General Eric Holder today apologized to lawmakers for an inaccurate report his office sent to Capitol Hill about the controversial Fast and Furious operation.

Justice Department lawyers provided Sen. Charles Grassley’s office with information about the tactic of guns being walked into Mexico in the controversial Fast and Furious operation, run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The program was designed to track guns bought in the U.S. by strawmen and delivered to drug cartels in Mexico, in an attempt to catch the cartel higher-ups. Begun in 2009, it was shut down after the Dec. 2010 murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

But it turns out the letter submitted to Grassley in February, which stated the U.S. government had not allowed  weapons to enter Mexico, was wrong.

“There was information in that letter that was inaccurate.  The letter could have been better crafted, we were relying on … information provided to them by people who were, we thought, in the best position  to know what was accurate,” Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

In a Feb. 4, 2011, letter sent to Grassley and his staff, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote, “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.”

Congress has been investigating Fast and Furious and how ATF ran the botched gun trafficking operation that resulted in a reported 1,800 firearms flowing into Mexico. Two were found at the scene of the murder of Terry, who was killed by Mexican drug smugglers on Dec. 14, 2010.

The Congressional investigation and ATF agents who blew the whistle on the controversial tactics used in Fast and Furious have shown that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona and ATF officials knew that guns were allowed to walk into Mexico as part of the operation.

“People in the U.S. Attorneys’ Office, people at ATF, people who themselves have now indicated in their Congressional testimony before the House that they were not aware of the tactics that were employed.  As a result of that, the information  that is contained in the February 4th letter to you was not in fact accurate…. I regret that,” Holder said.

Holder  denounced the tactics used in the operation, telling senators, “This operation was flawed in its concept and flawed in its execution.  And unfortunately, we will feel the effects for years to  come, as guns that were lost during this operation continue to show up at crime scenes, both here and in Mexico.  This should never have happened, and it must never happen again.”

Holder also clarified previous statements about when he had first learned about the operation. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in May, Holder said at the time that he first had learned about Fast and Furious in the past few weeks.

“I first learned about the tactics and the phrase ‘Operation Fast and Furious’ in the beginning of this year, I think, when it became a matter of, I guess, public controversy,” Holder testified.  “In my testimony before the House committee I did say ‘a few weeks,’  I probably could have said ‘a couple of months.’  I don’t think what I said in terms of using a term of ‘a few weeks’ was inaccurate based on what happened.”

Holder testified that although briefing memos from July 2010 made reference to the operation, he never saw the materials. A paragraph in a July 5, 2010, weekly update briefing to the attorney general makes broad reference to Fast and Furious but no reference to specific tactics.

“What happens is that these reports are  prepared — these weekly reports or whatever — they are prepared with  my name on them, with the deputy attorney general’s on them.  They are  reviewed by my staff and a determination made as to what ought to be  brought to my attention,” Holder told Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex.

Toward the end of the hearing, Holder expressed condolences to the family of Brian Terry.

“I certainly regret what happened to Agent Brian Terry.  I can only imagine the pain that his family has had to deal with, in particular, his mother,” Holder said. “It pains me whenever there is the death of a law enforcement  official, especially under the circumstances that this occurred.  It is not fair, however, to assume that the mistakes that happened in Fast and Furious directly led to the death of Agent Terry.”

“Again, my feelings of sympathy and regret go out to the Terry  family and I hope that the steps that we have put in place, the measures that I have called for, will prevent other federal agents, local state agents, from being the subject of this kind of violence, as well as civilians, both in the United States and Mexico.”