Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Congressional report blames five ATF employees for Fast and Furious debacle

WASHINGTON – Congressional Republican investigators have singled out five employees in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to blame for the botched anti-gunrunning operation known as Fast and Furious, in a report on the scandal obtained by Fox News.

The report, the first of three to be issued from the congressional investigation, concludes that the five employees were responsible for an operation "marred by missteps, poor judgments and inherently reckless strategy." All five have since been reassigned but remain employed in the agency.

The findings put additional pressure on the Obama administration in an ongoing battle over what higher-level officials knew, if anything, about the ATF operation.

For more than a year, Republicans have been leading an investigation into Fast and Furious, which was launched in Arizona in late 2009 by ATF, with help from the U.S. attorney's office there. The operation's targets bought nearly 2,000 weapons over several months. But for reasons that are still in dispute, most of the weapons sold were never followed, and high-powered weapons tied to the investigation ended up at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States, including the December 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

The Republican-led House voted late in June to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, but Justice officials since then essentially have said the ball is still in Republicans' court, if they intend to follow through with vows to file a civil lawsuit seeking the remaining documents.

The congressional investigative report, to be issued Tuesday, specifically faults Acting Director Kenneth Melson; Deputy Director William Hoover; William Newell, special agent in charge of the Phoenix Field Division; William McMahon, deputy assistant director for field operations, and Mark Chait, assistant director for field operations.

Melson told investigators he felt the Justice Department was making him a scapegoat for the operation's failure.

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