A report by the Department of Justice has absolved Attorney General Eric Holder of any involvement in a botched gunrunning program that led Congress to cite him for contempt.
The operation, known as Fast and Furious, involved Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm agents allowing guns to "walk" across the border to Mexico in an effort to trace the weapons to drug cartels. But the program unraveled, leading the government to lose track of hundreds of guns -- two of which later surfaced near where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was slain in a firefight.
Two senior department officials left the government Wednesday evening as the report was made public< Reuters reported. Kenneth Melson, former head of the U.S. agency that enforces gun laws, retired, while Jason Weinstein, responsible for oversight of many criminal-related matters, resigned.
The highest-ranking person criticized, Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of criminal prosecutions, has been "admonished," said a department official.
Congressional Republicans launched a probe into the failed program, contending that high-level Obama administration officials had allowed it to proceed. After Holder refused to turn over internal administration communications, asking President Obama to invoke executive privilege in order to resist a subpoena, the House of Representatives voted to cite Holder for contempt -- the first time a serving attorney general has been held in contempt of Congress.
Holder had contended all along that he was unaware of Fast and Furious, and a report released on Wednesday by the Department of Justice's Inspector General vindicates him. The report found that Justice Department leadership did not know about the gunrunning operation and did not try to conceal information from Congress, as some Republican lawmakers have charged.
“It is unfortunate that some were so quick to make baseless accusations before they possessed the facts about these operations -– accusations that turned out to be without foundation and that have caused a great deal of unnecessary harm and confusion," Holder said in a statement. "I hope today’s report acts as a reminder of the dangers of adopting as fact unsubstantiated conclusions before an investigation of the circumstances is completed."
The report does fault federal officials in Arizona for their shoddy handling of the program, finding that it was "seriously flawed and supervised irresponsibly."
"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 reads.
The Republican-led House of Representative's decision to hold Holder in contempt was a deeply polarizing one, prompting a walkout from Democratic lawmakers who said the attorney general was being scapegoated in an election-year ploy to embarrass the Obama administration.