Fast and Furious 'flawed,' US agent's death 'regrettable,' says Eric Holder
Fast and Furious operation, which allowed guns from US to 'walk' into hands of Mexican cartels, got sharpest censure yet from Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday. But Holder stopped short of apologizing for death of a US border patrol agent.
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Holder also argued that the focus on the botched operation has blurred a larger issue: that "the US is losing the battle against gun trafficking," partially because Congress won't give ATF more financial resources and statutory power (i.e., new laws to restrict gun access) to combat drug traffickers.Skip to next paragraph
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He also decried "gotcha games" and "overheated rhetoric" by lawmakers, insisting that Fast and Furious was "the flawed response to and not the cause of illegal arms going from the US into Mexico."
"Of 94,000 guns that have been recovered and traced in Mexico, 64,000 of those guns were sourced to the United States of America," Holder said. "The mistakes of Operation Fast and Furious, serious though they were, should not deter or distract us from the mission to disrupt the dangerous flow of arms across the southwest border."
House Republicans have already voted to defund a post-Fast and Furious directive that requires gun shops along the border to notify ATF whenever anybody buys two or more assault rifles. Holder says that rule is an extension of one that already applies to handguns.
"The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how many laws we pass if those responsible for enforcing those [laws] refuse to do their duty, as was the case with Fast and Furious," said Senator Grassley at the hearing.
Fast and Furious was partially based on a Bush administration program from 2006, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York asked Holder for more information about which Bush administration officials knew about Operation Wide Receiver, as it was called.
"What has been missing in the House investigation is that this didn't start with the Obama administration," Senator Schumer said, quoting a Bush administration memo about Operation Wide Receiver that noted that guns would be allowed to walk "without any further ability by the government to control their movement or future use." Holder acknowledged that Wide Receiver was coordinated with the Mexican government, while Fast and Furious was not.
Holder said he is awaiting a report from the Justice Department's inspector general before deciding whom to discipline for the Fast and Furious fiasco. So far, several people involved with the program have been reassigned, and the ATF's acting director, Ken Melson, has resigned.
Holder told senators he bears no direct blame, because he didn't learn of the "tactics" behind Fast and Furious until after Terry's death.
"I have the ultimate responsibility, but I can't be expected to know the details of every operation ongoing in the Justice Department," Holder said. "I did not know about Fast and Furious until, I guess, well, until it became public."
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