The inspector general’s investigation into the Department of Justice’s role in Operation Fast and Furious was not expected to be a blockbuster report. The primary interest in the document for members of the media, investigators, and the public alike was how Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz would choose to participate in a cover-up.
Horowitz did not disappoint. The six-part, 471-page report dedicated an entire chapter to Operation Wide Receiver, a program that began in 2006 and did not terminate until mid-2009.
Wide Receiver was an ATF operation started by local agents during the Bush administration which allowed hundreds of weapons to “walk” into Mexico. During congressional hearings, House Oversight Committee Democrats pounded a “Bush did it too” theme — attempting to excuse the Obama administration for Fast and Furious because a similar operation took place in Arizona prior to Obama taking office.
But what precisely did the inspector general’s report say about the practice of gunwalking during Operation Wide Receiver, and does it actually support what Democrats and the media have claimed?
The first thing established by Horowitz is that the OIG’s report was by no means a “finished” report or the final word on either Wide Receiver or Fast and Furious. It did not compel those most closely linked to possible corrupt behavior to testify, something that only a much-needed criminal investigation by an independent prosecutor could provide.
Key personnel involved in both cases flatly refused to talk to the inspector general (a significant detail most reporting on the story to date has overlooked). Charles Higman was the Resident Agent in Charge (RAC) in the ATF Tucson office during Operation Wide Receiver and had direct management responsibility. Wide Receiver was “his” case, and he flatly refused to respond to the OIJ’s repeated requests for interviews.
Operation Wide Receiver started in early 2006, when a Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder contacted the ATF about a purchaser that had bought six AR15 lower receivers (the individual part that is legally the gun) at a gun show, and wanted to purchase 20 more. The FFL suspected the purchaser, an 18-year-old, was a straw purchaser. The ATF formally opened an investigation on March 2, 2006, after interviewing the FFL.
Agents then “lost” the first batch of 20 guns on March 20 when they were given the slip by a smuggler.
By March 28, the straw purchaser was recorded making arrangements to buy more lower receivers, and stated that the lower receivers were being illegally converted into fully automatic weapons. The ATF refused to arrest the straw purchaser at the time, hoping the illegal gunsmith could also be busted.
RAC Higman then sent an email explicitly calling for 50 lower receivers to be walked on March 30:
The bandits have put a $ deposit toward buying 50 this Sat., and intend on 50 more in the next week or two. We have verified 26 to date; the USAO is on board. We are looking to let these 50 walk while identifying the location/subject who is doing the conversions with an eye to doing Search/Arrest warrant the next go ‘round.
Higman’s email was the first explicit, documented mention in the IG report noting an intention of facilitating weapons smuggling to Mexican drug cartels in hopes of catching “bigger fish.”