(CNSNews.com) - Hundreds of documents released Monday by the Justice Department show that a high-ranking Obama administration official not only knew about the ATF's botched "gun-walking" operation, he allowed it to continue "without asking key questions," as Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) put it. Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is among those investigating Operation Fast and Furious.
Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department's criminal division, is quoted as expressing "regret" that he didn't tell others--including his boss, Attorney General Eric Holder--about troubling similarities between the Obama administration's "Operation Fast and Furious" and an earlier gun-walking operation called "Wide Receiver," which was launched during the Bush administration.
In a statement released to Politico, Breuer said, "I did not draw a connection between the unacceptable tactics used by the ATF years earlier in Operation Wide Receiver and the allegations made about Operation Fast and Furious, and therefore did not, at that time, alert others within department leadership of any similarities between the two. That was a mistake, and I regret not having done so."
Breuer repeated that comment Tuesday as he testified before a Senate Judiciary panel on international organized crime.
Breuer reportedly learned about Operation Fast and Furious in April 2010.
Sen. Grassley said he and other investigators will spend the next few days going over 652 pages of documents the Justice Department released on Monday.
"At first glance," Grassley said, "the documents indicate that contrary to previous denials by the Justice Department, the criminal division has a great deal of culpability in sweeping the previous Wide Receiver strategy under the rug and then allowing the subsequent Operation Fast and Furious to continue without asking key questions."
Grassley said the documents show Obama administration officials were questioning Operation Wide Receiver at the same time that many of those same officials were being briefed on Operation Fast and Furious. "It begs the question why they didn't ask the same important policy questions about an ongoing case being run out of the same field division," Grassley said.
The documents also indicate that officials with the Justice Department's Criminal Division left the Senate Judiciary with a false impression during a briefing last February: "Despite their denials of gun walking, it appears that senior DOJ officials clearly knew that it had happened in Operation Wide Receiver and ignored the red flags that it was happening in Fast and Furious," Grassley said. He mentioned one official, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, by name.
"With every document that comes out, the Justice Department loses credibility and the faith of the American people," Grassley said.
Operation Fast and Furious was a botched gun-sting operation in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) knowingly allowed guns to flow to Mexican drug cartels. The ATF lost track of most of the nearly 2,000 guns that it intended to track.
The program began in September 2009 and was halted in December 2010 when two guns from the operation were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in Arizona. The matter is under investigation by Congress and the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General.
Attorney General Eric Holder was informed about Operation Fast and Furious in memos from July 2010, which seems to contradict his May 3, 2011 testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, when he said: "I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."
House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has called for a special counsel to probe whether Holder told Congress the truth when he was under oath.