Center releases new Portrait in Oversight on investigation into failed gun trafficking tactic

On Wednesday, the Carl Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy at Wayne State University Law School, in collaboration with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, released a Portrait in Oversight summarizing a lengthy congressional investigation into a failed federal law enforcement strategy that allowed guns bought in Arizona to be trafficked into Mexico without first seizing the illegally purchased guns. Launched in 2011, the investigation led by House and Senate Republicans raised law enforcement, whistleblower, and obstruction of Congress concerns; sparked a years-long court battle over congressional access to executive branch documents; and initiated the first House vote to hold a sitting Cabinet member in contempt of Congress.

“The Fast and Furious investigation, begun after U.S. Border Protection Agent Brian Terry was killed with a gun trafficked from the United States, required years of effort to unravel the facts and end a misguided and reckless law enforcement tactic,” said Jim Townsend, director of the Levin Center. “The inquiry was not an easy one, involving lengthy court battles and executive branch resistance to congressional information requests, but also demonstrated congressional resolve to meet its constitutional obligation to act as an effective check on executive branch misconduct.”

“One of the cornerstones of American democracy is our system of checks and balances,” said U.S. Capitol Historical Society President and CEO Jane L. Campbell. “Congress' power to investigate the federal government is an important aspect of that system, as played out in the difficult, yet necessary 'Fast and Furious' investigation. It reinforced the lesson to U.S. agencies that the ends don't always justify the means; and that every administration, of either party, has a responsibility to be transparent with Congress and the citizens it represents.”

This portrait is the latest in a series of profiles developed by the Levin Center of notable congressional investigations and key figures in the history of congressional oversight from 1792 to the modern era.  To read the latest protrait online, visit

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