I have to admit that, while I have a copy of the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General's Fast and Furious report, released yesterday, I have yet to read all 512 pages of obfuscatory goodness. What's fascinating to me is that the extensive and, just from the report's conclusions, rather damning document is immediately being spun as an exoneration of Attorney General Eric Holder. Because, really, in a deadly, multi-year gun-running scandal inolving federal officials, that's the most important issue at hand.
As the White House's Eric Schultz told Government Executive magazine:
"Today's report affirms the problem of gun walking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the previous administration, and it was this administration's attorney general who ended it," he said. "Nevertheless, The Justice Department has taken strong steps to ensure accountability and make sure this does not happen again, including important administrative, policy and personnel changes."
The official take-away is that this was a rogue operation, run entirely by Kurtz-like federal employees, gone native and driven mad in the blinding sun and pervasive heat of the Arizona jungle desert. As Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz today told (PDF) the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:
We concluded that both Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious were seriously flawed and supervised irresponsibly by ATF's Phoenix Field Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office, most significantly in their failure to adequately consider the risk to the public safety in the United States and Mexico.
And no way, no how, did the squeaky-clean bureaucrats of Washington, D.C. get their hands dirtied by this irresponsible rogue (did I say "rogue"?) operation.
Former Attorney General Mukasey became Attorney General after investigative activity in Operation Wide Receiver was concluded. We found no evidence that he was informed that ATF, in connection with Operation Wide Receiver, was allowing or had allowed firearms to "walk." …
We found no evidence that Attorney General Holder was informed about Operation Fast and Furious, or learned about the tactics employed by ATF in the investigation, prior to January 31, 2011. We found it troubling that a case of this magnitude, and one that affected Mexico so significantly was not directly briefed to the Attorney General.
Oh, the horror. The horror.
This may sell in Washington, D.C., where journalists know who rubs their bellies, but it's already getting some strong reactions in the Copper State. Today, the Arizona Republic editorialized:
Justice Department's inspector general report released Wednesday is a predictable 450-page exoneration of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The report blames "misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures that permeated the ATF headquarters and the Phoenix field division, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona and at the headquarters of the Department of Justice."
Fourteen people, employees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Justice Department, face disciplinary action. But the report says Holder knew nothing. Nothing. Did anyone really expect the DOJ's watchdog to bite the DOJ's boss?
I don't think for a moment the denizens of the imperial capital care what does and does not pass the laugh test in the provinces, but the Republic raises some good points. The Inspector General may find it "troubling that a case of this magnitude, and one that affected Mexico so significantly was not directly briefed to the Attorney General," but some of us find it completely freaking preposterous. Either Holder (and Mukasey, before him) knew about these operations and are being given a thorough whitewashing in the report, or else the U.S. Attorney General has lost control of whole sections of his department — whole armed, tax-funded sections that are dealing in weapons and operating in neighboring countries.
An either-or choice between deceitful bastard and incompetent figurehead should not be read as an exoneration.