By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) – The U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general found 14 employees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responsible for management failures in the botched Fast and Furious gun-trafficking operation, according to a report released Wednesday.
The inspector general’s report referred the 14 for possible disciplinary action, but did not recommend criminal sanctions.
The report found that Attorney General Eric Holder was not informed of the controversial ATF operation until 2011, after the death of a Border Patrol agent ratcheted up the political ramifications of the program.
The botched investigation was designed to expose the illicit networks responsible for illegal gunrunning to Mexico. The ATF launched the Fast and Furious program in Arizona to track weapons purchases, but lost track of nearly 2,000 firearms, two of which turned up in the 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Since then, a contentious political drama has unfolded in the wake of the program, including a contempt lawsuit against Holder.
Republicans have used the issue to attack Holder and the Obama Justice Department.
“Our review of Operation Fast and Furious and related matters revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment, and management failures that permeated ATF headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona,” the report concluded.
Moments after the report was released, the Justice Department announced the departure of two employees who were faulted in the report.
Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division, resigned. The report said he failed to pass along key information about the flawed tactics being used in Fast and Furious.
Former acting ATF Director Ken Melson, who had already stepped down from that role but was still working for the department in another capacity, has retired.
The report by the department’s office of the inspector general was highly anticipated by both the Obama administration and its critics, and could figure into November’s presidential election.
Both sides released statements saying that the report’s conclusions backed up their arguments.
Holder said that the conclusions were consistent with what he and other department officials have said all along. Namely, that the flawed strategies dated back to 2006, during the Bush administration, and that the department did not attempt to cover up information or mislead Congress.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a leading critic of the administration on this issue, called on President Obama to “step up and provide accountability” for the program.
“The Inspector General’s report confirms findings by Congress’ investigation of a near total disregard for public safety in Operation Fast and Furious,” he said.
“Attorney General Holder has clearly known about these unacceptable failures yet has failed to take appropriate action for over a year and a half,” Issa said.
Holder said the report found the opposite: that the leadership did not know or authorize the tactics.
Holder had said he was awaiting the report to determine what actions to take against individuals involved in the case. Up to now, Holder has promised Congress that such “gun walking” of weapons into Mexico would never again be allowed.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer acknowledged last November he had learned that guns were allowed to “walk” to Mexico, and apologized for not informing other senior Justice Department officials. A letter from the Justice Department to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, which had said no guns were allowed to walk, was later retracted by Justice officials.
A standoff over internal Justice documents erupted after the Obama administration said it was asserting executive privilege in the Fast and Furious case to shield documents that include internal deliberations traditionally protected from outside eyes.
That prompted the House to vote a civil contempt charge against Holder. The vote along party lines was followed by the House taking the contempt issue to court, where it is expected to linger until well after the presidential election.
It marked the first time in U.S. history that the head of the Justice Department has been held in contempt by Congress.
Democrats protested the vote vehemently as being purely political.