U.S. House Democratic members, including (L-R) Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. George Meeks (D-NY), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), participate in a walkout in protest of a vote on whether Attorney General Eric Holder was in contempt of Congress June 28, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- Fourteen federal law enforcement officials were recommended for discipline, including the head of the Justice Department's criminal division, related to their involvement in a botched gun-trafficking operation that allowed about 2,000 weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartel enforcers, according to an internal Justice Department review.
However, the report concluded that Attorney General Eric Holder was not informed of the program's tactics until it had been shut down in late 2010.
A 472-page review by the Justice Department's inspector general found "serious failures" at virtually every level of federal law enforcement that oversaw the operation known as Fast and Furious and a similar program dubbed Wide Receiver. The report singled out Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer -- the head of the criminal division -- among more than a dozen others for not recognizing the programs' dangerous flaws.
Although it recommended discipline for justice officials, it did not suggest they should be referred for criminal prosecution.
The botched gun-trafficking operation ignited a politically charged battle pitting congressional Republicans against Holder, who oversees the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In June, a House oversight committee investigating the gun operation voted to hold Holder in contempt related to the panel's request for documents in the trafficking case. President Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold certain documents from the committee.
Last year, following damaging congressional testimony from ATF agents who objected to the tactics used in the trafficking inquiry, Holder announced a dramatic shake-up of the agency resulting in the reassignment of interim director Ken Melson and the resignation of the top federal prosecutor in Arizona, Dennis Burke. The prosecutor's office oversaw related firearm investigations.
Melson was replaced by B. Todd Jones, who currently serves as interim director for the troubled agency, which has been without a permanent director for six years.
Prior to the inspector general's report, the personnel moves represented the Obama administration's most direct response to the flawed gun investigation.
The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Melson has retired. The department also announced that Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, who was also singled out in the report for failing to pass along details of the operation, submitted his resignation.
The operation was shutdown shortly after the Dec. 14, 2010, murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in a Arizona shootout. Two weapons recovered at the scene of Terry's murder were purchased as part of the federal sting operation. It has not been determined whether either of the weapons were used to kill Terry.
As part of the trafficking investigation, ATF officials allowed the guns to be purchased by alleged cartel associates, known as straw buyers, hoping that the trail of weapons would lead to cartel leaders and their ultimate prosecutions.