'Fast And Furious' Report Criticizes Program's Leaders

Justice Department watchdogs released a long-awaited report Wednesday on the Fast and Furious program, a failed gun sting operation in which the government lost track of as many as 2,000 guns. Carrie Johnson talks to Audie Cornish.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. More than a dozen people at the U.S. Justice Department may face disciplinary action. That's after a long-awaited report by the department's internal watchdog about the Fast and Furious program. That was the name the government gave to a huge gun trafficking case it was trying to build against a Mexican drug cartel. Things went astray to say the least and government agents lost track of as many as 2,000 guns. And two guns turned up next to the body of a border patrol agent killed in a fire fight. For more on today's report, we're joined by NPR's Carrie Johnson. Welcome, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Thanks.

CORNISH: And to begin, what are the key findings here from the department's inspector general?

JOHNSON: The key takeaways from the inspector general who investigated for well over a year and a half are this: no one is going to face criminal prosecution as a result of this scandal, but the inspector general has recommended the Justice Department look at as many as 14 people for possible disciplinary action for serious failures at all levels, mostly communication failures, failure to share information, failure to be good managers, and ask questions and when red flags were raised about things going wrong at this, in this scandal, not doing anything about it.

Now, it's notable Audie, that one person, the former acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, retired today after this harsh criticism, after almost 30 years in government service, another senior criminal division lawyer at the Justice Department resigned. The IG had cited both of those men for serious failures.

CORNISH: So who's actually getting the blame for all of this?

JOHNSON: Notably, Audie, not the attorney general, Attorney General Eric Holder was not cited in the report for doing anything wrong or failing to do anything, although a couple of people who work for him in his inner circle were criticized for not flagging some of these questions for the attorney general after the death of that border patrol agent in December 2010.

Most of the blame comes at the ATF both in Arizona, where this operation originated, and in Washington and at the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona which was prosecuting this big gun trafficking case.

CORNISH: Now what's the reaction today from Republicans? House Republicans, of course, held the attorney general in contempt.

JOHNSON: Audie, exactly right. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a Republican from California, has said he really wants to see heads roll at the Justice Department over this scandal. He wants people at long last to be fired. He's going to hold a hearing tomorrow morning with the inspector general to ask further questions about the scope of the investigation. He says he thinks that people need to go with the Justice Department and procedures need to be changed to make sure this doesn't happen again.

CORNISH: And on that front, I mean are there going to be any changes at the ATF?

JOHNSON: Worth noting. The ATF is currently led by an acting director, a federal prosecutor from Minnesota. He says that the agency accepts responsibility for its wrong doing. He says he's made some reforms, so he hopes this will never happen again, new procedures with regard to confidential informants, undercover operations, or management oversight at headquarters. But it's worth noting, Audie, that there's been a nominee languishing for some time to lead the agency in the Senate, that person has not even got a hearing yet because of some of the politics of gun control in this country.

CORNISH: Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

CORNISH: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson talking about the report today on the Justice Department's Fast and Furious program.

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