“What was the plan?” Lankford said.
“When the guns were recovered, how were you going to connect the dots here? Because you let it get out of your sight and the next time you see the guns was at a crime scene. There's no trail of evidence to connect the two. … That's why I say it's incredibly bad investigative procedures.”
The operation, which began in 2009, lost sight of about 2,500 guns — including AK-47 variants, Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifles and .38-caliber revolvers — and an estimated 1,800 are still on the streets, Lankford said; many of guns were recovered at crime scenes.
Lankford said the committee's investigation has not been a partisan “witch hunt.”
He said, “This has been a search for information to (find out) who knew and how are we holding them to account because we can never do this again.”
That search could lead back to the Bush administration as well.
Email exchanges released by the Justice Department revealed that “gunwalking” was also part of a 2006 ATF operation called Wide Receiver that ended in 2007 without any charges filed against straw purchasers, The Associated Press reported last week.
Memos to Holder
Last week, documents released by the U.S. Justice Department showed that the Fast and Furious operation was included in five separate memos given to Holder in 2010; the memos were weekly updates on various operations.
Holder told a House committee in May that he had learned only a few weeks previously about the operation.
“He knew,'' Lankford said, adding that the attorney general may not have been aware of the scope of the operation but that he had to have known about its existence. Even knowing about the operation meant that he knew “gunwalking” was occurring, Lankford said, because Fast and Furious was a gunwalking strategy.
At a news conference on Thursday, President Barack Obama said he had confidence in Holder.
“He's indicated that he was not aware of what was happening in Fast and Furious; certainly I was not,'' the president said.
“And I think both he and I would have been very unhappy if somebody had suggested that guns were allowed to pass through that could have been prevented by the United States of America.”
The Justice Department's Inspector General is investigating. Also last week, the new acting director of the ATF announced a reshuffling of senior leaders.
Grassley questioned the timing of the announcement, given the questions about Holder, and said that “rearranging the chairs on the deck won't make Fast and Furious go away.”