I saw a clever but disturbing image today of the photoshopped merging of Barack Obama and Richard Nixon from the clever folks at Big Fur Hat. That picture immediately told a thousand words of what will remain a primary news topic throughout this presidential campaign season. And like his predecessor of 1972, it will not be Obama’s friends’ bad behavior; but, rather his response that will reveal the President’s measure of integrity.
What Fast and Furious was about
The ATF (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) prevailed upon legitimate gun store owners in southern Arizona to cooperate with a U.S. Government plan to track illegal gun distribution across the Mexican border. After installing hidden cameras and microphones in the gun stores, the merchants were instructed to sell weapons to anyone. They just needed to report to the ATF whenever the purchase was made by someone whose background check would normally have prevented the sale. Allowing the guns to “walk” would ostensibly reveal a network of weapons distribution, particularly to the Mexican drug cartel.
Some 2,000 guns were sold to disqualified purchasers in the Fast and Furious operation.
What went wrong
The risk of losing track of the walking guns was overwhelmingly realized by the under-resourced ATF and Border Patrol agencies. The Mexican government maintains that Fast and Furious weapons have been found at some 170 crime scenes in their country where an estimated 200 Mexican citizens have been killed.
U.S. scrutiny of the operation began when Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed by illegal immigrants with a Fast and Furious AK rifle about eleven miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border.
Congress, in its appropriate role of oversight, held hearings with those involved in Fast and Furious to understand how a government sting operation could have resulted in the deaths of so many people. Because the ATF was transferred to the Department of Justice under the 2003 Homeland Security bill, Attorney General Eric Holder was ultimately called to testify on the matter before Congress.
The Obama Administration also directed internal investigations by the Inspector General, Homeland Security. Both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder made it clear that neither had prior knowledge of the Fast and Furious operation.
Testimony during the Congressional hearings were awkward and, many times, strained when the story changed and the documents provided did not come freely. At one exchange with Attorney General Holder, Congressman Darrell Issa, a Republican from California asserted, “Most of these documents, 5,000 or so, are in fact emails. ... Don’t you think it’s a little conspicuous in its absence that there’s not one email to or from you related to Fast and Furious in any way, shape or form?”
Months later, during an interview with Fox News, Congressman Issa stated, “We’re looking simply to get to the bottom of how it was that guns were allowed to walk and the Administration would tell us that guns [were] never allowed to walk when in fact they were. And another best part of a year went by, between February and November before they finally retracted that and said, ‘Yes; We really did let guns walk.’”
The Drill-down Inquiry
The aspect of the investigation that seems to have particularly earned the ire of Congress is that no one has been held accountable by the Administration for the botched gun walking operation. “We are looking for the misconduct that occurred within Justice, giving us false testimony, and then standing by it for the best part of a year.” Darrell Issa (R-CA)
The Attorney General has inadvertently created an overwhelming demand for documents by filtering out so much of the requested material. His office has provided a peep show of merely 1,300 from the 80,000 acknowledged pages that exist on the topic. Holder’s forbidden fruit approach earned the Attorney General a subpoena for internal documents related to his department’s response to Congress.
The Administration Ceases Cooperation
In response to his refusal to respond positively to a Congressional subpoena for all relevant documents, Congressman Issa began the process of holding Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt. Holder made one last attempt to appeal directly to Issa in a one-to-one meeting outside of the hearings. On emerging from that session, Issa stated, “The only offer we got was an offer that if we would take a briefing followed by such documents as they think support the briefing and agree to end the case, we could go our separate ways. The Attorney General did not come with any offer of any documents except as a contingent to ending the case outright and he didn’t bring any list of any documents.”
The Attorney General played his final trump card with a letter to President Obama, asking for an exercise of executive privilege to prevent Congress from seeing the Fast and Furious documents that they were after. House Speaker John Boehner responded with the following press release, “Today, the Administration took the extraordinary step of exerting executive privilege over documents that the Attorney General had already agreed to provide to Congress. Fast and Furious was a reckless operation that led to the death of an American border agent, and the American people deserve to know the facts to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
2,000 Smoking Guns
In 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama said to Larry King about President George W. Bush, “There’s been a tendency on the part of this administration to try to hide behind executive privilege... There doesn’t seem to be any justification for not offering up some clear, plausible rationale... I think the American people deserve to know what was going on there.”
Both President Obama and Attorney General Holder have criticized Fast and Furious as indefensible. So, the interference of Congressional discovery is beyond curious.
President Obama’s decision to invoke executive privilege casts a dark shadow of suspicion on his administration. Comparisons to Richard Nixon are inevitable, especially in light of this being the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. These maneuvers by the President and the Attorney General will demand very public attention, even by the main stream media, whose obligation to report news this big will exceed their loyalties to the president who shares their values.
Just as in 1972, a shady explanation for withholding information will become a national scandal. And the timing could not be worse for the President’s re-election campaign. “I think often what happens is to avoid embarrassment they don’t provide information or they cover up what they know and then the cover up becomes the problem.” Darrell Issa (R-CA)
Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) cited specific emails within the ATF that seemed to be building a case for clamping down on “long guns.” Franks delivered the caution to Eric Holder during the hearings that, “If the American people were to learn that the motivations for all this was somehow to make a case to deprive them of their 2nd Amendment rights, to make a case to further the department’s ability to further regulate gun rights within the United States, that would make them very angry, General.”
Another speculation for Holder’s motivation of filtering information comes from Townhall’s own Katie Pavlich, “If President Obama decides to invoke Executive Privilege, it is an indication that President Obama was involved in Operation Fast and Furious, which he has boldly denied.”
Presented with the facts by Eric Holder, President Obama chose to sustain the damage of a scandal as preferable to revealing the actual information. The President and his advisors must have calculated that the truth would damage his re-election chances even more than a Nixonian cover-up.