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'Fast & Furious' report leaves Americans with crucial questions

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Sept. 20, 2012: Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general, testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.AP

Finally, the media is showing the staggering human cost of Operation Fast & Furious. But the news broadcast wasn’t in English. 

Sunday, Univision, the Spanish language television network, ran a program showing the faces and stories of dozens of people who have been killed in Mexico with guns the Obama administration supplied to Mexican drug gangs. One Mexican interviewed summed up the theme: “Americans aren’t moved by pain beyond their border, only with their own.” 

Americans are now getting some partial answers about Operation Fast & Furious. The recent report by Justice Department's Inspector General identified Jason Weinstein as the highest-ranking DOJ employee to have been in a position to stop the program. He has now resigned from his post as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division.

It sure is about time. 

This is 34 months after Operation Fast and Furious began supplying guns to Mexican drug gangs in October, 2009, and 22 months after one of those guns was involved in the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Ironically, at the same time that people were poring over the new report, President Obama was denying that his administration had any responsibility for the program. On Univision Thursday, Obama claimed: “I think it’s important for us to understand that the Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program begun under the previous administration.”

Remember the strange set-up: the Obama administration was ordering gun dealers to sell gunsto individuals the dealers feared were criminals. Despite desparate warnings from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (BATF) agents, the guns were not traced. To top it off, Mexican officials were never informed. The report clearly notes that the program started in October 2009.

With about 300 Mexicans also killed and other crimes committed with weapons supplied, it is not surprising that someone in the Obama administration had to be blamed. Yet, Inspector General's massive 512-page report still leaves crucial questions unanswered.

Most importantly, did knowledge of Fast & Furious reach the political appointees in the Department of Justice, and if so, when? The report mentions that Weinstein was briefed about the operation in weekly updates on March 4th and 11th, 2010 (p. 257), but the report neglects to ask whether information provided by Obama's political appointees is at all credible.

Among the puzzles never really investigated by the Inspector General includes briefings that Weinstein gave his boss, Lanny Breuer, in April 2010. Breuer is the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. On April 19, 2010, the report finds, Weinstein briefed Breuer about a related program, instituted during the previous Bush administration, Operation Wide Receiver (pp. 73-75). That program also "walked" guns to Mexico, though under that program there were at least some attempts to trace the guns. Also, Mexican authorities were informed about the program. Nevertheless, the program failed and the reason was technical: tracing guns simply didn't work.

The DOJ report further reveals that after the April briefing, Breuer agreed with Weinstein that Wide Receiver was an "obviously flawed" program and ordered Weinstein to communicate this conclusion to the BATF. Yet, the report never questions whether Weinstein told his boss that a similar and even much more flawed program was then being run by the Department of Justice.

If "Wide Receiver" failed in tracing the guns and was subsequently shutdown, why would the solution be to not even bother try tracing the firearms?

If Breuer knew about Fast & Furious, that creates problems for Attorney General Eric Holder because Breuer reports directly to him. Holder and Breuer are extremely close, having been partners for years at a Washington law firm, Covington & Burling.

Other than continually asserting “we found no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives” (e.g., pp. 298, 431, 441), the Inspector General’s report never answers the question of why the federal government would insist that gun dealers sell guns to Mexican drug gangs when they knew that the guns weren’t being traced. The report concludes: “we concluded that the conduct and supervision of the investigations was significantly flawed.” But if the problems with the operation are so obvious to everyone, why was it ever set up? Something more is needed than simply saying the program was flawed.

Other documents that have been turned up in the investigation are never mentioned in the Inspector General’s report. For example, a July 2010 memo by Michael Walther, director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, told Holder straw buyers in the Operation Fast and Furious case "are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to the Mexican drug trafficking cartels."

There are other problems with the report. Three BATF managers, Phoenix Agent in Charge Bill Newell, Supervisor Dave Voth and Case Agent Hope MacAllister, bear much of the blame in the report, but they “contend that the report's conclusion thatthe strategy for Fast and Furious was hatched in Phoenix is not true.” MacAllister says that the policy was part of an overall BATF strategy, implying that it came directly out of Washington.

Alas, a report produced by Obama administration itself can hardly be considered an unbiased final arbiter over whether Holder or even the president were involved or knew about Fast & Furious. 

Remember the scandal where the Obama administration replaced the Inspector General for AmeriCorps after he filed a criminal referral against the U.S. attorney against Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a self-described friend and supporter of President Obama. The administration hardly looks objective when it has been caught coordinating press coverage of the scandal with Media Matters. And Mexico’s government is not just going to unquestioningly accept the report’s conclusions.

Now that Department of Justice has released its report, its high time that President Obama stop stonewalling and grant Congress access to the documents it badly needs to complete its own investigation. If indeed the DOJ investigation has been thorough, what does President Obama have to hide?

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.