Breuer becoming the Fast & Furious fall guy?

Late yesterday, the Department of Justice finally released a large amount of documentation relating to Operation Fast & Furious, some of which contradicts earlier assertions that the DoJ knew nothing of “gunwalking” across the US-Mexico border. One memo in particular shows that Lanny Breuer, head of the DoJ’s criminal division and a well-connected lieutenant of Attorney General Eric Holder, not only knew of the practice in both OF&F and a Bush-era operation called Wide Receiver, he had warned that the practice could end up “embarrassing” the ATF, and yesterday issued a statement that he “regrets” not warning DoJ officials of the similarities between the two operations:

Documents just released this afternoon show the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Lanny A. Breuer, learned about the tactic of ATF gunwalking as early as April of last year.

In a memo, Breuer’s deputy wrote him that, in a case called “Wide Receiver” started under the Bush Administration, “ATF let a bunch of guns walk” in an effort to catch the big fish of Mexican drug cartels and said the gunwalking case could be “embarrassing” to ATF.

Today, Breuer issued a statement saying he “regrets” that he didn’t alert others in Justice Department leadership, apparently including his boss Attorney General Eric Holder.

In a separate ATF case reported by CBS News earlier this year, called “Fast and Furious” and started under the Obama Administration, Breuer says he likewise regrets not alerting leaders about the similarities in the cases. That, said Breuer, was a mistake.

Congress reacted yesterday by pointing out just how far the DoJ has come since the House decided to probe the matter. Earlier this year, Justice sent a memo to investigators claiming that allegations of gunwalking were “false.” Now we have Breuer not only admitting that it occurred, but that he knew about it more than a year before Justice’s memo to Congress. That will have some in the House looking for blood when hearings resume on Fast & Furious.

But this does something else as well; it acts as a firewall for Eric Holder and the White House, at least for the moment. Breuer’s admission contains one key component — “regrets” for not having informed his superiors. Breuer appears ready to argue that the knowledge of gunwalking only went as high as his desk, and that Breuer never told Holder about the effort. That’s going to be difficult to believe, especially since we already know that the White House got extensively briefed on the matter directly from the Phoenix office.  Are we to believe that Breuer didn’t get asked about this from above, or that the White House wouldn’t have asked Holder about an operation conducted in his own fiefdom?  It seems unlikely that the buck stopped at Breuer’s desk, especially given the international implications of gunwalking across the border.

The number of Representatives calling for Holder’s resignation has now risen to 28 overnight.  I don’t think that Breuer’s attempt to become the fall guy in this fiasco will change that momentum.