The Obama administration’s handling of its multiple scandals paints a picture of those who believe they are above the law. There’s a pattern of arrogance, dismissiveness, denial, scapegoating, stonewalling, lying, false professions of ignorance, assurances of accountability and punishing whistleblowers.
The numerous parallels in the administration’s handling of the Fast and Furious and Internal Revenue Service scandals alone are too striking to be coincidental. The recurring theme is that the buck never stops at the Obama White House.
With Fast and Furious, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives adopted an ill-conceived, indefensible plan to deliberately walk guns into Mexico with the hope that they would end up at scenes of crimes perpetrated by Mexican drug lords and thus lead to their arrests.
Under the plan, ATF agents were instructed to reject their training and not follow the weapons but wait until after crimes had been committed and people had been injured or killed with the weapons and then try to link them to the drug lords.
When the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry led to the outing of this operation, everyone in the administration denied knowledge and approval of it.
The Department of Justice blamed U.S. attorneys and “rogue” ATF agents, though they are under the DOJ umbrella anyway. The ATF blamed Main Justice. The White House professed total ignorance, despite evidence that a key presidential aide had been directly informed. In fact, top Justice Department officials had to have been aware of the details of the operation through detailed wiretap affidavits they were required to approve. Emails further prove their knowledge, as well.
The administration claimed Fast and Furious was just a continuation of Operation Wide Receiver, a gun-walking operation that had begun under President George W. Bush. But that operation had been discontinued, and it differed from Fast and Furious in at least four significant ways.
Wide Receiver involved “controlled delivery.” The agents would follow the weapons and seize them before they went into Mexico. In Wide Receiver, the Mexican authorities were fully apprised of the operation and cooperated with the ATF on interdiction, whereas with Fast and Furious, they were deceived and kept in the dark. Wide Receiver was on a much smaller scale. Maybe one-fourth the weapons were involved. And when weapons got away in Wide Receiver, the program was immediately discontinued, unlike with Fast and Furious.
Attorney General Eric Holder denied being behind Fast and Furious but was caught red-handed lying to Congress about when he found out about it. In May, he told Congress he’d learned about it just a couple of weeks before, yet he had received emails and memos some months earlier detailing the operation. He then claimed he had neither read nor been briefed about those emails. Even if true, this is wholly unacceptable nonfeasance for which he not only did not apologize but indignantly faced down his congressional inquisitors as if they were the ones at fault.
Top officials in the Justice Department, including Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, were caught lying in a Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, in which they claimed the “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation into Mexico.” On the very day Breuer approved of that letter, he was trying to convince Mexican authorities, who had previously been kept in the dark, that gun walking was a good idea. Under questioning from Rep. Trey Gowdy, Holder refused to admit the letter was “demonstrably and materially false” and said only that it “contained inaccuracies.”
When Congress tried to get to the bottom of the scandal, which resulted in not only Terry’s death but the injury or death of 200 Mexicans and the commission of 11 violent crimes in the United States involving 57 Fast and Furious weapons, Holder stonewalled. He used a concurrent investigation by the inspector general as an excuse to withhold from Congress some 74,000 documents concerning the matter. To protect Holder and fortify his stonewall, the most transparent president, Barack Obama, invoked executive privilege.
Fast-forward to the IRS scandal and compare the administration’s reaction. In both scandals:
- Holder lied and then lied about his lying.
- The administration investigated itself and stonewalled congressional investigators.
- The administration denied culpability and knowledge and blamed the wrongdoing on rogue employees – in Phoenix and Cincinnati, respectively.
- The administration blamed Bush. With Fast and Furious, Wide Receiver was the culprit. With the IRS scandal, it was the fault of a Bush appointee.
- Obama expressed shock and varying levels of outrage, promised to bring to account those responsible and then proceeded to do the opposite.
- Congressional Democrats obstructed and ran interference for the administration.
- Obama did his best to shield those accountable, rewarding the wrongdoers and, in some cases, punishing the whistleblowers.
Congress must not be deterred by the administration’s evasions. It must turn up the heat and be just as persistent in demanding accountability as the administration is in dodging it.