U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is under the gun these days, but his critics seem to protest too much.
The source of Holder’s woes is Operation Fast and Furious, a federal ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) initiative designed to trace the illegal flow of guns to Mexico. The purpose of the Phoenix gun sting operation was to observe and gather information on how Mexican drug cartels use operatives to smuggle arms to Mexico, but without stopping the smugglers. Small-time straw purchasers were allowed to pass firearms to middlemen, who then trafficked the guns across the border.
As a result, over 2,000 illegally purchased weapons made their way to the streets. The Obama administration reassigned or removed top ATF officials involved in Operation Fast and Furious.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asked President Obama to appoint a special counsel to determine if Holder lied to Congress at a May 3 hearing concerning his knowledge of the program. At the hearing, Holder testified that he had just learned of the program.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), a Tea party-endorsed freshman lawmaker, said Holder should resign immediately, and suggested that Obama officials responsible for Fast and Furious could be accessories to murder.
“We’re talking about consequences of criminal activity, where we actually allowed guns to walk into the hands of criminals, where our livelihoods are at risk,” Gosar told the Daily Caller. “When you facilitate that and a murder or a felony occurs, you’re called an accessory. That means that there’s criminal activity.” Gosar accused the Obama administration of “showing an intentional, wanton disregard for the law,” and that “there’s got to be consequences for that.”
And in a similar vein, Rep. Darrell Issa (R, California) said that Holder “may or may not have perjured himself,” and should “come forward and at least admit” that he knew about the Fast and Furious program long before he told Congress that he learned of the operation. Issa, who is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also accused Holder of being incompetent, negligent and untrustworthy, adding that he is so “inept that he is dangerous to have as the Attorney General.”
Issa told Fox News Sunday that subpoenas could be issued to the justice Department as early as this week.
“I cannot sit idly by as a Majority Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened last week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered ‘accessories to murder.’ Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms,” Holder said.
“Those who serve in the ranks of law enforcement are our nation’s heroes and deserve our nation’s thanks, not the disrespect that is being heaped on them by those who seek political advantage. I trust you feel similarly and I call on you to denounce these statements,” Holder added.
The president said he has full confidence in Holder, and neither he nor his AG had knowledge of the controversial tactics of the program. More than a year and a half ago, then-Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler was briefed on the program. However, the program was not considered controversial until early 2011, when whistleblowers came forward.
Although at least one observer is predicting that Fast and Furious will become Obama’s Watergate, there is no evidence of wrongdoing on Holder’s part. This is a presidential campaign season, in which political opponents look for scandals or create them. Given the source of the outrage over Fast and Furious — Obama’s Republican adversaries in Congress — it is no wonder that Holder accused lawmakers of political posturing.
At the very least, Republicans are guilty of hypocrisy. “Gunwalking” operations similar to Fast and Furious date back to 2006 under the Bush administration and his attorney general Alberto Gonzales. Under the Bush-era Operation Wide Receiver, which was run by ATF’s Tucson office, guns were allowed to “walk” to Mexico without interdiction. Yet, Rep. Issa and other Republican lawmakers have made no mention of that Bush program.
Meanwhile, the president and the attorney general have taken steps to stop the proliferation of weapons and curb the out-of-control gun violence in Mexico. As much as 90 percent of the assault weapons used in the drug-related carnage south of the border comes from the U.S.
The primary roadblock standing in the way of the ATF’s efforts is the National Rifle Association and their bipartisan allies in Congress. The pro-gun lobby wields much power in U.S. politics, and the NRA with its $250 million in revenue has stood in the way of gun control for years.
In 2009, when Holder favored reinstituting a federal assault weapons ban, a part of Obama’s 2008 campaign platform, the gun lobby effectively killed the proposal through action alerts to its membership, and letters from senators and members of Congress.
Up to this point, the Obama administration has been untainted by scandal. Critics on both side of the ideological divide have found fault with this administration’s policies, but have been unable to claim corruption or criminal wrongdoing. The Republican response to Fast and Furious harkens back to the GOP obsession with manufacturing controversy during the Clinton administration.
In the 90s, congressional Republicans hoped to undo the Clinton presidency — a man they hated, like Obama — through Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate and other so-called scandals. Finally, in 1998 the Republican-controlled House voted to issue Articles of Impeachment against Clinton for essentially lying about having sexual relations with an intern named Monica Lewinsky in the White House.
The Senate acquitted the president of the charges, in a grand example of overreach. Ultimately, the careers of a number of Clinton’s congressional would-be accusers and prosecutors were brought down amid revelations of their own marital infidelity.
Clinton’s impeachment trial was a politically-motivated spectacle, a witch hunt. They tried, but Clinton’s enemies could not bring a popular president down. Fast-forward thirteen years later, and Operation Fast and Furious smells a lot like another witch hunt. This time, they’re going after the nation’s first black president and attorney general. After all, the 2012 campaign season is upon us.