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President Barack Obama is far ahead with Hispanic voters, but he faced tough questions during a Univision interview at the University of Miami on Sept. 20, 2012.
Interviewer Jorge Ramos asked Obama about the controversial "Fast and Furious" program, in which federal agents allowed guns to be sold and brought into Mexico so they could trace the weapons. But the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ended up losing track of some of the guns. Two were found at the crime scene where U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed on Dec. 14, 2010.
"I think it’s important for us to understand that the Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program begun under the previous administration," Obama responded. "When (Attorney General) Eric Holder found out about it, he discontinued it. We assigned an inspector general to do a thorough report that was just issued, confirming that in fact Eric Holder did not know about this, that he took prompt action and the people who did initiate this were held accountable."
Several readers wrote to us that Fast and Furious did not start under President George W. Bush, so we decided to check it out.
A day before Obama’s Univision interview, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General released a 512-page report about Fast and Furious.
"Our review of Operation Fast and Furious and related matters revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures," the report noted.
The report also clearly shows that Fast and Furious began under the Obama administration, dating its inception to October 2009. (Obama took office in January 2009.) This directly contradicts Obama’s claim.
There is one mitigating factor, however: A program similar to Fast and Furious did go forward under the Bush administration in 2006 and 2007. That program, called Operation Wide Receiver, also attempted to track suspicious weapons. Allowing gun sales to go forward even when the ATF had probable cause to believe the sales were unlawful has come to be known as "gun walking."
The two operations -- Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver -- had some similarities, and both were run out of the ATF’s Phoenix Field Division. The inspector general explored both programs in depth and found similar problems.
"The risk to public safety was immediately evident in both investigations," the inspector general’s report states.
The White House told us that Obama was referring to the general practice of gun walking, which happened in both administrations. "The President was referring to the flawed tactic of gun-walking, which despite Republicans efforts to politicize this issue, began under the previous administration and it was our attorney general who ended it," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued their own 211-page investigative report this summer. The investigations led House Republicans to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt for failing to satisfy their requests for documents. House Democrats walked out on the criminal contempt vote, which passed 255-67.
Obama said that the Fast and Furious program began "under the previous administration." That is not the case; Fast and Furious did begin during the time Obama held office.
Another similar program, called Operation Wide Receiver, did happen during the Bush administration, and a recent inspector general’s report criticized both operations as ineffective and seriously flawed.
But Operation Wide Receiver is not the same thing as the Fast and Furious program. We rate Obama’s statement False.
U.S. Department of Justice, "A review of ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious and related matters,"September 2012
ABC News, "President Obama falsely claims Fast and Furious program ‘begun under the previous administration,’" Sept. 21, 2012
The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker, "Obama’s Univision denial that Fast and Furious started on his watch,"Sept. 21, 2012
McClatchy, "Fast and furious operation ‘misguided’, risky, Justice concludes,"Sept. 19, 2012
McClatchy, "President Obama grilled on immigration," Sept. 21, 2012
Email interview, White House Spokesman Eric Schultz, Sept. 24, 2012
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