Transcript: DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies on Operation Fast & Furious

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s testimony on Operation Fast and Furious before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Sept. 20, 2012:

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz. SOURCE: C-Span.org

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I ask that my full statement be made a part of the record, and I have pared that down somewhat so that I don’t go on for 20 or 30 minutes and I will try to stick to the 5 minutes certainly.

“Good morning, and thank you to the members of the committee for inviting me to testify today about our report – a report that we released yesterday which details a pattern of serious failures in both ATF’s and the U.S. Attorney’s offices’ handling of the investigations in Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver and the Justice Department’s response to congressional inquiries about those flawed operations.

“This is my first opportunity to testify before the Congress since I was sworn in 5 months ago and it’s an honor to be here today.

“During the confirmation process, I made a commitment to the Congress and to the American people that I would continue the strong tradition of my office for independent, non-partisanship, impartiality, and fairness. Those are the standards that I and my office applied in conducting this review and in preparing this report. As in all of our work, we abided by one bedrock principle: to follow the facts and the evidence wherever they led.

“And as indicated previously, this report could not have been done without the extraordinary dedication of the staff and the employees in my office. They worked long nights, weekends, through vacations, and I couldn’t thank them enough and I appreciate the committee thanking them for their hard work.

“As indicated, we reviewed over 100,000 pages of documents here. We interviewed over 130 witnesses – many on multiple occasions. The witnesses we interviewed served at all levels of the department – from the current and former Attorneys General to the line agents in Arizona who handled the investigations. Very few witnesses refused our request to be interviewed, and where they did refused, we noted those in the report.

“The Justice Department provided us with access to the documents we requested, including documents from post-Feb. 4 concerning the Department’s response to the congressional inquiries.

“We operated with complete and total independence in our search for the truth and the decision about what to cover in this report, and the conclusions that we reached were made by us and our office and by no one else.

“I’m pleased that we’ve been able to put forward to the Congress and to the American people a full and complete recitation of the facts that we found and the conclusions that we reached with minimal redactions by the Department to our report.

“The Administration made no redactions for executive privilege even though our report evaluates in detail and reaches conclusions about the Department’s post-Feb. 4 actions in responding to Congress.

“Additionally, at our request, the Department has agreed to seek court authorization to un-redact as much of the wiretap information that we included in this report as possible. If the court agrees to the Department’s request, we will shortly issue a revised version of the report with that material un-redacted.

“The investigation that became known as ‘Operation Fast and Furious’ began on Oct. 31, 2009. By the time the indictment was announced on Jan. 25, 2011, over a year later, ATF agents had identified more than 40 people connected to a trafficking conspiracy that was responsible for purchasing over 2,000 firearms for approximately $1.5 million in cash. Yet ATF agents seized only about 100 of those firearms that had been purchased.

“Numerous firearms that had been bought by straw purchasers were recovered by law enforcement officials at crime scenes in Mexico and in the United States.

“One such recovery occurred on Dec. 14, 2010 in connection with the tragic shooting death of a federal law enforcement agent: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry.

“Shortly thereafter, the flaws in Operation Fast and Furious became known as a result of the willingness of a few ATF agents to come forward and tell what they knew about it and as a result of the conduct of the investigation by the Congress.

“On Feb. 28, the Attorney General requested my office to conduct a review of Operation Fast and Furious, and we agreed to do so.

“During the course of our review, we received information about other ATF firearms trafficking investigations that raised serious questions about how they were conducted. Our report reviews one of them – Operation Wide Receiver.

“We concluded that both Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious were seriously flawed and supervised irresponsibly by ATF’s Phoenix field division, by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and by ATF headquarters most significantly in their failure to adequately consider the risks to the public’s safety in the United States and in Mexico.

“Both investigations sought to identify the higher reaches of firearms trafficking networks by deferring any overt law enforcement action against the individual straw purchasers, such as making arrests or seizing firearms even when there was sufficient evidence to do so.

“The risks to the public’s safety was immediately evident in both investigations.

“Almost from the outset of each case, ATF agents learned that the purchases were being financed by violent Mexican drug trafficking organizations and that firearms were destined for Mexico.

“Yet in Operation Fast and Furious, we found that no one responsible for the case – either at the Phoenix field division or at ATF’s headquarters or in the U.S. Attorney’s Office – raised a serious question or concern about the government not taking earlier measures to disrupt a firearms trafficking operation that continued to purchase firearms with impunity for many months.

“We also did not find any persuasive evidence that supervisors in Phoenix, at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, or at ATF headquarters raised serious questions or concerns about the risks to the public safety posed by the continuing firearm purchases or in the delay in arresting individuals engaged in the trafficking activity.

“This failure, we found, reflected a significant lack of oversight and urgency by both ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a disregard by both for the safety of individuals in the United States and in Mexico.

“Our review revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgments, and management failures that permeated ATF headquarters and the Phoenix field division as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the headquarters of the Department of Justice.

“In the course of our review, we identified individuals ranging from line agents and prosecutors in Arizona to senior ATF officials in Washington, D.C. who bore a share of responsibility for ATF’s knowing failures in both of these operations to interdict firearms illegally destined for Mexico and for pursuing this risky strategy without adequately taking into account the significant danger to public safety that it created.

“We also found failures by Department officials related to these matters, including failing to respond accurately to a congressional inquiry about them.

“Based on our findings, we made six recommendations designed to increase the Department’s involvement in and oversight of ATF’s operations, to improve coordination among the Department’s law enforcement components, and to enhance the Department’s wiretap application review and authorization process.

“The Inspector General’s Office intends to closely monitor the Department’s progress in implementing these recommendations.

“Finally, we recommended that the Department review the conduct and performance of the Department personnel that are referenced in the report and determine whether discipline or other administrative action with regard to each of them is appropriate.

“Thank you again for the opportunity to be here and I look forward to answering any questions that the committee may have.”

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