The U.S. House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents subpoenaed almost a year ago by the House Government Oversight Committee. The Department of Justice, which Holder heads, promptly responded to the congressional indictment with a statement that they didn’t find anything criminal in their boss’ actions and that they were not going to prosecute. As expected, the whole mess is at a stalemate with no one winning and only the American people – and the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry – losing in the deal.
Now the matter will be debated and brokered, and perhaps even argued in court, but it doesn’t look like any of that will soon get us closer to answers to the core questions of the case: Who knew about the tactic of allowing guns to be recklessly transferred to operatives of Mexican drug cartels? Who authorized those tactics? What were the actual objectives of the operation? And who did what to conceal the answers to those questions and why? That is why I have repeatedly called for the creation of a special prosecutor’s office to initiate an independent, nonpartisan investigation into the matter.
Defenders of Holder in Congress and the media have painted the whole mess as political theater generated by National Rifle Association and Republicans as a way to embarrass Holder and Obama in an election year. While that has gained traction among die-hard Obama supporters, it presumes that Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., and other Republicans knew that the investigation into a “felony-stupid” (as Issa put it) gunwalking operation codenamed “Fast and Furious” would be stymied and blocked for over a year by Mr. Holder and his minions so that it would actually be fought out in an election year rather than the mid-term year in which the investigation began.
Arguments that “Bush did it too” and that the real problem is lax U.S. gun laws are lame attempts to sidestep the fact that this administration instructed gun dealers to sell large quantities of military-looking firearms to known Mexican gun smugglers and ordered agents not to follow or interdict some 2,000 of these guns, which have been subsequently used in numerous crimes, including the murder of Terry, ICE Agent Jaime Zapata and as many as 300 Mexican nationals. They also fail to explain why the administration then lied about it, claiming first that they never allowed guns to “walk” out of agents’ observation or control, and then claiming that it was just a silly scheme that lower-level field agents hatched and employed without knowledge or authority of senior staffers at the DOJ or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF.
Emails and formal paperwork that discussed details of the operation have been discovered to have gone to top DOJ officials – including Holder himself – and to a member of the White House national security team.
The president and the White House disavowed any knowledge of the operation and then invoked executive privilege to keep communications about the operation, and the administration’s reaction to the congressional investigation, from being released to investigators.
The lies and hypocrisy are so obvious that even liberal comedian Jon Stewart was compelled to shred them in a segment on his pseudo-news program, “The Daily Show.” During that segment Stewart played a clip of then-Sen. Barack Obama criticizing President Bush for hiding behind executive privilege rather than coming clean.
One of the aspects of this case that has become a focal point for those critical of Rep. Issa and his investigation are claims from the NRA and others that the purpose of the operation was to bolster the number of U.S. guns found at Mexican crime scenes in order to strengthen calls for stricter gun control laws in the U.S. Critics claim that this is just a crazy conspiracy theory, and it does seem rather far-fetched. Whether that was the actual intent of the operation or just a side benefit the Obama administration decided to exploit, the fact is that they did indeed use data from Fast and Furious to support their calls for expanding restrictions on firearms.
Specifically, emails have surfaced from a senior ATF official to the Phoenix Field Office asking for detailed data about Fast and Furious guns seized in Mexico and the stores that sold those guns, for the express purpose of using the numbers to support the administration’s plan to require border-state gun dealers to report sales of more than two semi-auto long guns within a five-day period. That plan was subsequently implemented, and statistics that included data from the Fast and Furious operation were used to prove its necessity. That is not some crazy conspiracy theory; it’s a proven fact.
Is it possible that Fast and Furious was just a knuckle-headed plan concocted by a few morally bankrupt ATF field managers without the knowledge or approval of their superiors? Certainly it is possible, though not likely. If that was indeed the case, why weren’t those field managers rounded up and delivered to Rep. Issa’s committee by Mr. Holder and his inspector general (who has been conducting an internal investigation for over a year)?
Whatever Fast and Furious was, whoever authorized it, whoever knew about it, and whoever tried to hide the facts from Congress, we need to know the truth. The families of Brian Terry and Jaime Zapata and all of the victims in Mexico deserve to know who helped to kill their loved ones. The American people deserve to know that they can trust their government and that the rule of law still applies to everyone, not just everyone outside of Washington, D.C. And the world needs to know that in the USA justice is blind and we’re not afraid to admit mistakes and hold people accountable no matter how impressive their job title.
David Codrea and Mike Vanderboegh, the citizen-journalists who initially broke the Fast and Furious story and kept yelling about it until Congress and the major “authorized media” finally noticed, have filed an ethics complaint with the D.C. Bar Association, calling for the revocation of Eric Holder’s license to practice law. Perhaps that will turn the heat up a notch and generate a little more major media coverage.
Something else that might force a break in this case would be for the attorney general of Arizona, Tom Horne, to file criminal charges against the ATF managers known to have authorized the “Fast and Furious” program. Laws were clearly broken, and just because these people worked for the U.S. government doesn’t mean they are exempt from prosecution. It’s likely that a serious threat of prison time for these bureaucrats would open the floodgates and get fingers pointing.
The most effective and expedient option, though, is the establishment of an independent special prosecutor to initiate a serious investigation of the matter. Congress should select someone with solid, non-partisan credentials and a good reputation for seeking the truth wherever it might lead and give that person the authority to dig to the bottom of this mess. That should have been done a year ago, but it can still be done now and it should be.