By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice inspector general’s office is close to issuing its long-awaited findings in the Fast and Furious case — perhaps as early as next week — after top Justice officials provided their final comments about the failed gun-tracking operation on the Southwest border.
In a letter to Capitol Hill, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said his investigators now must pore over wiretap records, grand jury material and sealed court records to make sure nothing that should not be disclosed is inadvertently included in the final report.
“Due to these legal restrictions, we cannot release the report or discuss its conclusions until the issues arising from this sensitivity review have been resolved,” he wrote to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Horowitz in his letter also advised Issa that he may not be able to testify as scheduled Sept. 11 at a committee hearing about the inspector general’s Fast and Furious findings, if the report is not finished and publicly released by then. “As of this date,” he cautioned, “I do not yet know the precise timing for the release of our report.”
Horowitz noted that Justice officials on Wednesday “provided us with its initial sensitivity review for law enforcement sensitive information” including wiretaps, grand jury material and sealed court records.
“We are in the process of discussing these proposed sensitivity redactions with the Department,” Horowitz wrote in the letter, which arrived Wednesday. “We also are awaiting comments from the department regarding whether any material discussed in the report is covered by the president’s assertion of executive privilege.”
Earlier this year, the GOP-led House found Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress after he refused to turn over certain Fast and Furious material subpoenaed by the committee. In an effort to stave off the contempt citation, Holder’s Justice Department notified the House that President Barack Obama was claiming executive privilege in not releasing the material.
The White House, however, never fully explained why the material was protected under executive privilege, and the House went ahead and voted Holder in contempt.
Horowitz also wrote that his office is receiving final comments from individuals who likely are targets of the investigation. “We are now evaluating those comments,” he wrote. He added that his office wants to “ensure that the report is accurate, fair, and thorough.”
Holder called for the inspector general’s investigation after a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed by Mexican bandits in December 2010 south of Tucson. Two of the suspects were armed with firearms traced back to Fast and Furious.
Fast and Furious was run by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from its Phoenix field office. It was designed to permit illegal gun sales on the border so that agents could track the weapons and arrest Mexican drug cartel leaders. Instead, some 2,000 weapons were lost, and more Fast and Furious weapons were recovered from violent crime scenes in Mexico.