As William Shakespeare proclaimed in Richard II, the most valued earthly treasure capable of being possessed by a man is a “spotless reputation.” As true as this axiom is for an individual person, it is even more apt for a lawyer; and infinitely more so for a powerful government agency populated with lawyers and clothed with the authority to reduce a man’s liberty to nil. Thus is the tragedy of loss of reputation and credibility that recently has befallen the Department of Justice in this second term for President Barack Obama.
Eric Holder was a man of high reputation when he was sworn in as our nation’s 82nd Attorney General in February 2009. However, the unraveling of credibility that has stretched to the highest reaches of the once-vaunted Department of Justice, has now so weakened Holder that resignation is the only honorable and timely option.
The depth to which the Department’s prestige has fallen in the public eye was evident last week, when many of the major news outlets boycotted a special, “off-the-record” meeting called by the Attorney General with members of the press to discuss the particulars of the Department’s investigations of reporters.
While the current scandals rocking the nation’s Capital – from systemic abuse of citizens’ rights by the Internal Revenue Service, to violation of constitutional rights by the Justice Department -- capture media headlines, the downward spiral of credibility at Justice actually began more than two years ago, with the “Fast and Furious” gun-running debacle.
“Operation Fast and Furious” was the ill-advised program concocted and conducted in Arizona by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), a component of the Justice Department, which sanctioned the selling of thousands of firearms to known and suspected Mexican criminal elements. Not surprisingly – at least to those who understand the nature of criminals – many of those firearms found their way into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, and in at least one known instance, into the hands of individuals involved directly in the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
Yet, rather than do what the Department of Justice should have done – immediately, thoroughly and transparently investigate and punish those field agents and supervisors who perpetrated such an absurd operation – the government’s top lawyers did what almost always and predictably gets public officials in trouble – they fumbled and stonewalled.