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Issa-Grassley report links Fast & Furious to 'widespread' Justice Department failures

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FILE: October 14, 2011: A man writes "Fast" -- in reference to Operation Fast and Furious -- on a paper mache gun during a protest in Mexico City . (REUTERS)

Top-ranking Capitol Hill Republicans released a new report Monday on the Obama administration’s Operation Fast and Furious that concludes high-ranking Justice Department officials “failed to identify red flags” in the mishandled gun-tracking operation.

The 140-page report singles out five senior agency officials: Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein and Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed Siskel.

This is the second installment in Rep. Darrell Issa's and Sen. Chuck Grassley’s final investigation into Fast and Furious.

The first report focused on the involvement of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which ran the operation from its Phoenix bureau.

Fast and Furious ran from 2006 to 20011 and put roughly 2,000 guns into the Mexican black market in an attempt to trace them to leaders of drug cartels. However, many of them surfaced at crime scenes including the fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Grindler and Siskel were presented with detailed evidence during a March 2010 briefing on Fast and Furious that showed illegally purchased firearms being recovered in Mexico and the United States, but failed to ask probing questions or “take any significant follow-up action to monitor and supervise the conduct of the case,” according to report.

In addition, the Justice Department officials took no action when asked by ATF officials to help speeding up the indictments in Fast and Furious, instead showing concern only for how the press might react to the indictments, the report also found.

Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, says the agency has taken only limited action against the “negligent managers” and has yet to make changes to prevent a similar “disaster.”

The report begins with a detailed account of how then-acting AFT Director Kenneth Melson -- amid news report he would be fired over Fast and Furious -- agreed to several congressional interviews that appear to connect high-ranking Justice officials with the operation.

The findings are also based on testimony from senior Justice Department officials.

“The failures happened because of conscious decisions to encourage gun dealers to sell to known traffickers and avoid interdicting … all in the hope that would lead law enforcement to cartel connections,” the report concluded.  

An Inspector General’s investigation found no evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder was aware of the operation or involved in a coverup.

The Justice Department, whose headquarters was closed Monday because of the storm, could not be reached after several attempts.

“Officials in the Justice Department saw countless warnings and some even had the gun-walking information right in front of them, yet nothing was done to stop it, said Grassley, an Iowa senator and ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.