The inspector general of the U.S. Justice Department issued a scathing report last week on the gun-tracking probe in Arizona that became the deadly fiasco known as Fast and Furious. While such a report might normally be suspect – it is difficult-to-impossible for an agency to investigate itself with any credibility – it appears to be complete and unsparing of those who are liable.
Even House Republicans accept it as accurate, with Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, praising Inspector General Michael Horowitz for taking "a huge step forward toward restoring public faith in the Department of Justice."
Not that many Americans seem to have lost faith. Most, it seems, saw the controversy within the parameters of a program that was a miserable, badly run exercise – one that demanded a public accounting and consequences. That has happened, or at least has begun.
Fast and Furious was a monumentally bungled investigation of gun trafficking that saw hundreds of weapons reach drug gangs in Mexico. One gun was found at the scene of a shootout in which a U.S. border agent was killed. Some 1,400 of the guns used in the operation remain unaccounted for.
It's possible that some of the Republican acceptance of the investigation is linked to the politically uncomfortable fact that Fast and Furious was the successor to a program initiated during the administration of President George W. Bush. Operation Wide Receiver was conducted in 2006-07, and 400 guns remain unrecovered from that operation.
Horowitz's investigation cleared Attorney General Eric Holder of direct accountability, though it's fair to wonder why the attorney general didn't know about the existence of this sensitive operation until it blew up. More significantly, and noted by Horowitz, is the fact that senior Justice officials didn't inform Holder of the operation and the fact that it had been bungled.
The report recommended that the Justice Department examine the conduct and the performances of 14 people to determine if disciplinary action is needed. Two of those individuals, senior officials in the Justice Department, stepped down after the report was released. Ken Melson, the former head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, retired, while Jason Weinstein, a career attorney and deputy assistant attorney general, resigned. Also gone is Dennis Burke, who was the U.S. attorney in Phoenix during Fast and Furious. He resigned in August 2011.
That leaves 12 others whose actions the department needs to review. They include Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer. If Holder was mainly exonerated by Horowitz's report, he is on the hot seat now. He needs to ensure that if further disciplinary action is warranted, it is undertaken sooner rather than later.
He also owes the public a report on what the Justice Department plans to do to ensure that this kind of mayhem cannot repeat itself in years to come. Just as important, he has to ensure that the attorney general of the United States is made aware of operations that carry with them such an obvious element of risk.