This morning on "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien," House Oversight Committee ranking member Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) responds to the report from the Inspector General of the Department of Justice on Operation Fast & Furious.
"I think the attorney general has said over and over again that this was a botched and irresponsible operation," Rep Cummings says. "He made that very clear. But keep in mind what the report also said. This was a bottom-up operation, not a top-down. In other words, the Phoenix office of the Aft and the Arizona U.S. attorney's office, the report says, were responsible for this."
"But I think Eric Holder makes it clear he takes responsibility for this as head, but at the same time, it's kind of hard to take full responsibility of something that you haven't even been provided information with regard to," Rep Cummings adds.
See more from the interview in the clip below. Rush transcript available after the jump.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND: Good to be with you.
O'BRIEN: So we know that one of the 14 has been reassigned - one resigned, one retired, and several were reassigned. What should happen to the rest, these 14 people who have really been named in this report?
CUMMINGS: Well, the attorney general already referred all of them to the office of professional responsibility and DOJ. But keep in mind, Soledad, when this first came up, when he first learned of these tactics, the attorney general immediately did some shuffling around and moved people around, because he wanted, first of all, to be fair to them. And when he ordered the IG report, which we just got, now that he's gotten it, of course, you just mentioned Weinstein and Melson, who's head of Aft, but gone. Now the others have been referred to the, you know, the office of professional responsibility.
So they're going to make their determination, look into this, and I'm sure make recommendations to the attorney general. But, again, he acted on this, and keep in mind, this was a report that was issued at his request. In other words, he asked for the investigation.
O'BRIEN: Right. And the report says this, specifically, about the attorney general. "We determined that attorney general holder did not learn about operation Fast and Furious until late January or early February 2011, was not aware of the allegations of gun walking in the investigation until February. We found no evidence that the department or Aft informed the attorney general about operation wide receiver or operation fast and furious prior to 2011." That's very critical.
But Republicans would say, it's not really a vindication of the attorney general, even if it reads like one, because it's an indication that he lacked leadership. I mean, ultimately, it was the attorney general who had oversight of that program, that ended up in the death of Brian Terry.
CUMMINGS: Well, I think the attorney general has said over and over again that this was a botched and irresponsible operation. He made that very clear. But keep in mind what the report also said. This was a bottom-up operation, not a top-down. In other words, the Phoenix office of the Aft and the Arizona U.S. attorney's office, the report says, were responsible for this. And –
O'BRIEN: Right, but somebody leads those, right?
CUMMINGS: Somebody leads those.
O'BRIEN: The report points out, and let me read –
CUMMINGS: No doubt about it. But I think Eric Holder makes it clear he takes responsibility for this as head, but at the same time, it's kind of hard to take full responsibility of something that you haven't even been provided information with regard to. Keep in mind that the head of Aft, Mr. Melson, who's now gone, never - he claimed that he didn't even know about it.
O'BRIEN: OK, but the report itself, though - let me interrupt you for one second, sir. The report itself said this - "We reviewed wiretap allegations in both operation wide receiver, operation Fast and Furious, and concluded that the affidavits in both case included information that would have caused a prosecutor who was focused on the question of investigative tactics, particularly one who was already sensitive to the issue of gun walking, to have questions about ATF's conduct of the investigations."
In other words, they're saying, there are all these red flags, and if anybody who was reading these wiretap affidavits, which we know the attorney general has said he read in 2011, that they should have known. That's kind of the paragraph that says, he should have known.
CUMMINGS: The fact is, I was there at the briefing yesterday, and what the investigator said was that it had been the custom of folks who should have read actually the affidavits with regard to these wiretap operations, it had been the custom for them to merely read a summary. And unfortunately, just reading the summary, they didn't get all of the information. Sure, there were a lot of things that went wrong here, but clearly, there was - they concluded that there was no - everybody here acted in good faith. Maybe some bad judgment, some mismanagement on the lower levels, but clearly, no - the report concluded that there was no effort to mislead Congress.
O'BRIEN: A lot of the conversation we've been having since we started talking about this has been how much of this is politically motivated. How much is this playing politics? And we now know that the report is critical of both operation wide receiver, which happened turned Bush administration, and operation fast and furious, which happened under the Obama administration. Is there any intention to investigate operation wide receiver, a significantly smaller operation? Is that going to happen?
CUMMINGS: Well, we've been pushing - the Democrats have been pushing for us to look at that operation wide receiver, which, of course, was under the Bush administration, but we have not done that, and that's partly because I don't think the chairman was that interested in wide receiver, again. And I think a lot of this is political and I've said it all along.
But the fact is that we - I keep - I want to go back to the fact that, unfortunately, we had a border patrol agent who was killed. And our aim was to look at this entire situation, to try to figure out why it happened, and make sure it does not happen again. And I think this report goes a long ways towards resolving a lot of issues and showing us what needs to be done. So, hopefully, we will now move to reform. We need to do that.
I think that we have looked at it. I think the IG has looked at it very carefully. And I applaud the IG. I think they've done a very thorough job, reviewing over 100,000 documents, interviewing 130 witnesses. And so now we must move on. But keep in mind, Soledad, that from the very beginning, some very strong and unfortunate allegations were made against Attorney General Holder, saying that he approved it and authorized these tactics.
O'BRIEN: Later this morning, we'll talk to Congressman Gowdy about some of those comments –
CUMMINGS: And we come to find out, he didn't even know about it. So I think that now we need to get to reform. We've got the information, let's move forward.
O'BRIEN: Congressman Elijah Cummings joining us this morning. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for your time.