This week Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., has been conducting a congressional oversight hearing into the Department of Justice’s role in “Project Gunrunner,” a program of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency (ATF) that allowed over 1,500 guns to be delivered to the Mexican drug cartels. The hearings, while explosive in many respects, have left many questions unanswered.

Much was already known about the “sting operation gone awry,” thanks to several courageous ATF whistleblowers from the Phoenix regional office and mushrooming news coverage of their story. Still, Rep. Issa was right to insist that top Obama appointees in the Department of Justice answer some pointed questions about the operation. Until now, Issa’s questions have met with more stonewalling than truthful answers.

What we do know is enough to justify removal of the high-level ATF managers who authorized and pushed the firearms sales over the repeated objections of field officers. What is not yet known is how high up in the Department of Justice the approval of that misguided operation went. Given the continued Justice Department evasions and half-truths, there are ample grounds for suspecting the approvals and support for the operation came from the White House.

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There is abundant evidence that bureaucrats at the assistant AG level approved the operation. Thus, it is a fair question to ask – and to demand an answer under oath – whether Attorney General Holder or his boss, President Obama, knew about the operation. If they knew of it, then they necessarily approve of it because they certainly did nothing to stop it. (How do you say cover-up in Spanglish?)

The supposed purpose of the gun-sales project was to track the route of the illicit arms as they found their way to the drug cartels in Mexico. Yet, this alleged purpose is transparently a post-hoc cover-up and cannot be taken seriously by anyone familiar with the Mexican drug cartels.

First, ATF has no jurisdiction inside Mexico and no means, human or technological, for tracking those guns once they crossed the border and entered Mexico. Second, there was no plan put in place to track the guns inside Mexico. Third, when ATF personnel in the field began pointing out these obvious facts to their supervisors in headquarters, they got no answers, only insistent demands to proceed with the operation. So, if that was not the real purpose of the operation, what was it?

If 1,500 U.S.-made AK-47s and other arms were deliberately allowed to fall into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels, and if the U.S. Department of Justice knew the guns could not be tracked to individual cartel leaders for purposes of arrest and prosecution, what was the real objective behind the operation? Was it simply gross incompetence or abject stupidity? Or was there a hidden purpose, one completely in tune with Obama administration policies?

There is a growing accumulation of circumstantial evidence that the Department of Justice and ATF managers planned Operation Gunrunner as a means of planting U.S.-made weapons in Mexico to bolster their claim that the drug cartels obtained 90 percent of their weapons from gun shops and gun shows in the U.S. Since 2009, that myth has been widely propagated by ATF managers and top Obama appointees, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, despite independent analysis that showed the real figure to be around 15 percent.

The government of Mexico itself has been complicit in this conspiracy for at least two reasons. First, Mexican politicians traditionally find it easy to blame the U.S. for cartel violence, as the U.S. is the biggest customer for the illicit drugs. But with regard to the guns, Mexico wants to point the finger at the United States to distract public attention from the ugly truth that most of the cartels guns come from the Mexican military and Mexican police stations. That is very embarrassing, so why admit it when you can blame the U.S. instead – especially if the U.S. government will participate in the lie?

Mexican politicians have reacted with predictable – and perhaps in this instance, justifiable – outrage to the news reports about Project Gunrunner. Resolutions have been introduced in the Mexican Congress declaring the operation “an act of war against Mexico.” With any luck, Mexico can win a few billion dollars in restitution for this egregious affront to their sovereignty.

But for Americans, there is more than dollars at stake. It appears that the highest levels of our government conspired to break the law to advance a purely political goal – to generate public support for more gun-control laws. Regrettably, you need not believe in a plague of black helicopters to believe such a thing is quite possible.

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