In Eric Holder’s recent letter to Congress proclaiming his innocence in the Gunwalker scandal, he alluded to a similar operation that took place during the Bush administration:
It has become clear that the flawed tactics employed in Fast and Furious were not limited to that operation and were actually employed in an investigation conducted during the prior Administration.
If true, this would hardly excuse the administration, since the scandal is at least as much about the ham-handed cover-up as it is about the original malfeasance. Nevertheless, I was skeptical. If the Bush administration had really run a similar operation, surely the Obama administration would be shouting it from the rooftops.
I was right to be skeptical. It seems that Holder was referring to Operation Wide Receiver, which was similar to Gunwalker in that it allowed straw purchases of weapons to go forward, and ultimately lost track of the weapons.
But there is a major difference between Wide Receiver and Gunwalker. In Wide Receiver, the ATF actually tried to follow the weapons! In Gunwalker they did not.
Wide Receiver was ill-conceived and poorly executed, but it was intended to track weapons. No one in the Justice Department has yet produced a plausible explanation for what Fast and Furious was intended to do. If Holder really thinks the two are similar (unlikely), he completely misunderstands the nature of the scandal.
Wide Receiver also differs from Gunwalker in magnitude. Wide Receiver lost track of 450 guns and was quickly shut down. Gunwalker lost thousands in Fast and Furious alone, and there are allegations of similar operations in several other cities.
It would not excuse Gunwalker even if the two operations were similar, since the ATF ought to have learned from its earlier mistakes, but, in fact, the similarity is only superficial.