Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fast and Furious

Report Cites F&F Failures, Clears Holder

A lengthy report released by the Department of Justice inspector general’s office this afternoon cites serious failures in management related to the Fast and Furious scandal, singling out 14 employees for sanction review but ultimately finding that Attorney General Eric Holder had no knowledge of the operation prior to early 2011. The Wall Street Journal reports:

A Justice Department watchdog recommended that 14 employees be reviewed for possible sanctions in light of a “pattern of serious failures” at the department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in overseeing the botched Fast and Furious operation against gun traffickers.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released the more than 400-page report Wednesday, the most extensive review of the actions by federal officials in Arizona and Washington that led to the scandal.

Among his findings, he said that Attorney General Eric Holder wasn’t aware of the tactics being used in the operation until early 2011, an issue that has become a point of contention with Republican lawmakers who have accused Mr. Holder of authorizing the flawed probe.

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A lengthy report released by the Department of Justice inspector general’s office this afternoon cites serious failures in management related to the Fast and Furious scandal, singling out 14 employees for sanction review but ultimately finding that Attorney General Eric Holder had no knowledge of the operation prior to early 2011. The Wall Street Journal reports:

A Justice Department watchdog recommended that 14 employees be reviewed for possible sanctions in light of a “pattern of serious failures” at the department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in overseeing the botched Fast and Furious operation against gun traffickers.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released the more than 400-page report Wednesday, the most extensive review of the actions by federal officials in Arizona and Washington that led to the scandal.

Among his findings, he said that Attorney General Eric Holder wasn’t aware of the tactics being used in the operation until early 2011, an issue that has become a point of contention with Republican lawmakers who have accused Mr. Holder of authorizing the flawed probe.

The Daily Caller’s Matt Boyle reports that former ATF head Kenneth Melson and Jason Weinstein, a deputy assistant attorney general, have already stepped down as a result of the report.

Holder also came out swinging against Republican critics this afternoon, claiming the report “debunks” allegations made against him by members of the House GOP, particularly the charge that he knew about the operation earlier than he acknowledged. But this is far from a victory for him. The fact that the report found “a pattern of serious failures” and singled out 14 of his employees for penalties — including the two top-level officials who already resigned — is a pretty clear repudiation of Holder’s leadership.

If this report had come out six months ago, House Republicans might have been able to get their scalp. But the election is a month and a half away. Even if Obama is reelected, I can’t imagine Holder would stick around for a second term. This report slapped some wrists and held the DOJ accountable for some “serious failures,” while giving Holder enough cover to hold onto his job for the time being — which is probably enough to get him through to the end of his term.

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House GOP Releases First F&F Report

The House Oversight Committee is holding five Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officials responsible in the Fast and Furious operation failures, according to a draft report released last night:

The report determined that five officials in the ATF were responsible, ranging from a former low-ranking special agent to the former acting head of the agency. Congressional investigators called attention to the weak leadership at the ATF and pushed for the agency to be strengthened.

“Strong leadership is needed at ATF to overcome the deep scars left by Operation Fast and Furious,” the report states. “Greater accountability within ATF would underscore that ineffective supervision and recklessness both have consequences.”

Specifically, the report pins blame on former Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division William Newell, former Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon, former Assistant Director for Field Operations Mark Chait, the former Deputy Director William Hoover, and former acting ATF director Kenneth Melson.

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The House Oversight Committee is holding five Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officials responsible in the Fast and Furious operation failures, according to a draft report released last night:

The report determined that five officials in the ATF were responsible, ranging from a former low-ranking special agent to the former acting head of the agency. Congressional investigators called attention to the weak leadership at the ATF and pushed for the agency to be strengthened.

“Strong leadership is needed at ATF to overcome the deep scars left by Operation Fast and Furious,” the report states. “Greater accountability within ATF would underscore that ineffective supervision and recklessness both have consequences.”

Specifically, the report pins blame on former Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division William Newell, former Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon, former Assistant Director for Field Operations Mark Chait, the former Deputy Director William Hoover, and former acting ATF director Kenneth Melson.

The Hill reports that all five of these officials have been reassigned to other positions. But this oversight report is just the beginning. There are two more reports set to be released, which will both deal with the Department of Justice directly. According to The Hill, the next one will be focused on the deputy attorney general’s office, and the third one will address the failings at the top level of the attorney general’s office and AG Eric Holder. The point of the staggered release may be to give Obama time to back down on executive privilege, Allahpundit writes:

The point of this leak, I assume, is to give Obama one last chance to drop his executive privilege claim over the DOJ documents that [Rep. Darrell] Issa wants to see. (The LAT quotes the report as saying it’s based on “the best information available as of now.”) If he does that, then the report will be held back while GOP investigators go through the new evidence. If he doesn’t do it, then the GOP can argue that there must be nothing in those e-mails that exculpates any of the five guys they’ve named.

Anybody think there’s a chance of this happening? Me neither.

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New Holder Emails Raise More Questions

The Associated Press (AP) has reported on three emails from 2011 that Attorney General Eric Holder showed members of Congress at a Tuesday meeting, during his last-ditch effort to avert today’s contempt vote. The emails supposedly show Holder hadn’t known about Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011 and immediately set out to get to the bottom of the issue.

Keep in mind, the AP didn’t see the actual emails — the contents were “described” by people who had seen them — and there are few specific quotes given in the article. If this is supposed to be evidence that Holder was doing the right thing, it seems pretty flimsy:

CBS News ran a story on Feb. 23, 2011. On March 3, CBS followed up, and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity weighed in with its own online account.

On Feb. 23, aides passed along to the attorney general the CBS story alleging gun-walking, and the attorney general shot back, “We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers.”

Five days later, Holder asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.

On March 3…the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, emailed his staff: “We obviously need to get to the bottom of this.”

Holder was skeptical of any assurances.

“I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk,” an official at the ATF’s Washington headquarters said on March 10 in an email that Holder’s aides forwarded to the attorney general.

In a response, Holder wrote, “Do they really, really know” that there was no gun-walking?

A day earlier, at Holder’s instruction, the Justice Department had sent out a directive to the field reinforcing a longtime Justice Department policy against gun-walking. The directive said that agents must not allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.

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The Associated Press (AP) has reported on three emails from 2011 that Attorney General Eric Holder showed members of Congress at a Tuesday meeting, during his last-ditch effort to avert today’s contempt vote. The emails supposedly show Holder hadn’t known about Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011 and immediately set out to get to the bottom of the issue.

Keep in mind, the AP didn’t see the actual emails — the contents were “described” by people who had seen them — and there are few specific quotes given in the article. If this is supposed to be evidence that Holder was doing the right thing, it seems pretty flimsy:

CBS News ran a story on Feb. 23, 2011. On March 3, CBS followed up, and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity weighed in with its own online account.

On Feb. 23, aides passed along to the attorney general the CBS story alleging gun-walking, and the attorney general shot back, “We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers.”

Five days later, Holder asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.

On March 3…the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, emailed his staff: “We obviously need to get to the bottom of this.”

Holder was skeptical of any assurances.

“I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk,” an official at the ATF’s Washington headquarters said on March 10 in an email that Holder’s aides forwarded to the attorney general.

In a response, Holder wrote, “Do they really, really know” that there was no gun-walking?

A day earlier, at Holder’s instruction, the Justice Department had sent out a directive to the field reinforcing a longtime Justice Department policy against gun-walking. The directive said that agents must not allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.

Not to nitpick, but AP writes that “Republicans have promoted the idea” that top DOJ officials knew about the gun-walking. That’s framed rather unfairly — this wasn’t some baseless idea pulled out of thin air by the GOP; emails we’ve already seen showed Holder’s top aides discussing F&F as early as December 2010. Holder himself claimed he’d heard about the gun-running a “few weeks” before his May 2011 hearing with Congress, but was forced to reverse himself later, after it became clear he must have known before that.

The latest letters Holder showed members of Congress seem to show he knew about the operation in February 2011, but where is the evidence that he’d just found about it at that point? Just because he allegedly sent out emails ordering an investigation and questioning others about the gunwalking, that hardly seems like proof he wasn’t aware of this earlier.

Plus — if he was so involved in the issue that he’d sent out field directives and vowed to “get to the bottom” of the case in February, then why was he so fuzzy on the timeline during questioning in May? Clearly, he had to have recalled that he knew about this for longer than “a few weeks.”

As I wrote, we already knew his office was aware of the gun-walking months before these emails were sent. If Holder wasn’t informed properly, then why haven’t heads rolled on this? And if the full electronic mail trail really shows Holder had no idea about F&F, why doesn’t the administration just let investigators take a look? Three vague emails we can’t even see tell us nothing, and they actually only make Holder’s defense seem weaker.

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Fast & Furious Doesn’t Hurt the GOP

The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza writes today that the attempt by House Republicans to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal is a political loser. According to Cilizza, Congress is so unpopular that any attention given to the House GOP caucus is bad for Mitt Romney’s chances in November. He also thinks any moment taken away from a discussion of President Obama’s handling of the economy is a lost opportunity for the challenger. Though he concedes that being dragged into the mud with John Boehner and company doesn’t help the president, Cilizza is still wrong to think the Republicans’ decision to push hard on this issue is a mistake.

While the Republicans do have to concentrate on the economy, if there is anything we should have learned from the political collapse of the George W. Bush presidency is that fresh problems merely compound an administration’s troubles; they don’t provide an escape hatch. Just as Hurricane Katrina didn’t stop Americans from worrying about the Iraq War, Fast and Furious won’t stop them from being upset about the parlous state of the nation’s finances and job losses. The specter of scandal and the Nixon-like invocation of “executive privilege” merely contribute to the impression that the Obama presidency is tiptoeing along on a precipice and can start slipping down the mountain at any time.

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The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza writes today that the attempt by House Republicans to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal is a political loser. According to Cilizza, Congress is so unpopular that any attention given to the House GOP caucus is bad for Mitt Romney’s chances in November. He also thinks any moment taken away from a discussion of President Obama’s handling of the economy is a lost opportunity for the challenger. Though he concedes that being dragged into the mud with John Boehner and company doesn’t help the president, Cilizza is still wrong to think the Republicans’ decision to push hard on this issue is a mistake.

While the Republicans do have to concentrate on the economy, if there is anything we should have learned from the political collapse of the George W. Bush presidency is that fresh problems merely compound an administration’s troubles; they don’t provide an escape hatch. Just as Hurricane Katrina didn’t stop Americans from worrying about the Iraq War, Fast and Furious won’t stop them from being upset about the parlous state of the nation’s finances and job losses. The specter of scandal and the Nixon-like invocation of “executive privilege” merely contribute to the impression that the Obama presidency is tiptoeing along on a precipice and can start slipping down the mountain at any time.

Cillizza is right when he notes that Congress and, in particular, the House Republicans, are widely disliked. But the contempt most Americans have for our political class doesn’t mean they don’t think Congress shouldn’t investigate genuine scandals. To the extent that people understand that lives were lost because of a Justice Department blunder and that the administration has been trying to fight a desperate delaying action to avoid dealing with the consequences of their folly, they support a vigorous examination of what has happened.

Nor should the administration take any comfort from legal arguments claiming such privilege is justified. As Politico’s Josh Gerstein writes today, the administration may have a court precedent to cite justifying their decision. But even if they are right about that — and most legal observers think they are mistaken — this is still a colossal miscalculation on the part of the president and his advisers. So far, the mainstream press has refused to treat Fast and Furious as a second Watergate even though the implications of the scandal may be far greater. Some liberals may even buy into the preposterous argument that the investigation of Holder is a racist plot to punish him for opposing a fictitious Republican plot to suppress the minority vote.

But the administration’s foolish decision to invoke executive privilege to stop Congress from investigating is an unforced error that could haunt the president even if he wins re-election this fall. Even for those who haven’t followed the scandal closely — a group that includes most Americans — it contributes to the idea the president is a poor leader and things are out of control in Washington. The privilege claim handed Romney and the GOP a club to beat him for no reason other than to spare Holder some humiliation. President Obama will spend the next four months, if not the next four years, regretting it.

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Issa Confronts WH About F&F Involvement

Via the Daily Caller, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa sent a letter to the White House this morning directly challenging its use of executive privilege to obstruct the Fast and Furious investigation. Issa asserted what others have been saying for days now: the executive order suggests that the White House was either involved in some aspect of the Fast and Furious debacle, or the order was unwarranted.

“[Y]our privilege assertion means one of two things,” Issa wrote to the president in a letter dated June 25. “Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast & Furious and the fallout from it, including the false February 4, 2011 letter provided by the attorney general to the committee, or, you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation.”

Issa said Obama’s assertion of executive privilege “raised the question” about the veracity of how the “White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the department with respect to the congressional investigation.”

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Via the Daily Caller, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa sent a letter to the White House this morning directly challenging its use of executive privilege to obstruct the Fast and Furious investigation. Issa asserted what others have been saying for days now: the executive order suggests that the White House was either involved in some aspect of the Fast and Furious debacle, or the order was unwarranted.

“[Y]our privilege assertion means one of two things,” Issa wrote to the president in a letter dated June 25. “Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast & Furious and the fallout from it, including the false February 4, 2011 letter provided by the attorney general to the committee, or, you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation.”

Issa said Obama’s assertion of executive privilege “raised the question” about the veracity of how the “White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the department with respect to the congressional investigation.”

This makes it clear that the Eric Holder contempt vote scheduled for Thursday isn’t going to be the end of the story, at least not if Issa can help it. Obama’s assertion of executive privilege can be overturned — under certain circumstances — by Congress or the Supreme Court, and Issa seems to be making a preliminary case for that in this letter.

Issa also gave details on the 11th hour “deal” Holder offered him before the committee contempt vote last week:

“He indicated a willingness to produce the ‘fair compilation’ of post-February 4 documents,” Issa wrote to the president. “He told me that he would provide the ‘fair compilation’ of documents on three conditions: (1) that I permanently cancel the contempt vote; (2) that I agree the department was in full compliance with the committee’s subpoenas, and; (3) that I accept the ‘fair compilation,’ sight unseen.”

That deal is a joke — a permanent cancellation of the contempt vote and an agreement that the Department of Justice cooperated fully in exchange for a stack of documents of Holder’s choosing, “sight unseen”? Issa obviously would never accept such an agreement, and Holder had to have known that. Was Holder was trying to give himself some cover by offering a deal that would likely get rejected, so that he could claim Issa was the one who was unreasonable? Either that, or Holder was actually desperate enough to think Issa might go along with it.

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Scandals a Preview of Second Obama Term

Earlier this year, a hot mic caught an unfortunate bit of candor when President Obama told former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that once safely re-elected he would have the “flexibility” to please the Kremlin better than he could before November. That confession alerted wavering independents that what they hear on the campaign trail from the president might bear very little resemblance to the policies that a second Obama administration would implement. That is especially true when it comes to foreign policy where the election year Jewish charm policy vis-à-vis Israel has been such a departure from the first three years of his administration.

But however great the contrast may be between what the president is promising and what he plans on delivering, that might be nothing when compared to the difference between what he thinks a second term will be like and the actual experience. Right now, with Mitt Romney continuing to rise in the polls and the Democrats showing weakness around the country, the only thing the president seems to be thinking of is the necessity to do or say anything he needs to in order to beat the Republicans. Setbacks, such as the jobs numbers, and scandals, such as the fallout from the Fast and Furious investigation and the probe into the administration’s press leaks about cyber warfare and other secret matters seem to be merely obstacles to the all-consuming task of securing 270 Electoral College votes. To the extent that they rivet his attention, it is only to the extent of figuring out how to damp down the controversy until after the election.

But these scandals should serve as a reminder to the president that even if he is able to win this year, the following four years may turn out to be an unremitting hell.

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Earlier this year, a hot mic caught an unfortunate bit of candor when President Obama told former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that once safely re-elected he would have the “flexibility” to please the Kremlin better than he could before November. That confession alerted wavering independents that what they hear on the campaign trail from the president might bear very little resemblance to the policies that a second Obama administration would implement. That is especially true when it comes to foreign policy where the election year Jewish charm policy vis-à-vis Israel has been such a departure from the first three years of his administration.

But however great the contrast may be between what the president is promising and what he plans on delivering, that might be nothing when compared to the difference between what he thinks a second term will be like and the actual experience. Right now, with Mitt Romney continuing to rise in the polls and the Democrats showing weakness around the country, the only thing the president seems to be thinking of is the necessity to do or say anything he needs to in order to beat the Republicans. Setbacks, such as the jobs numbers, and scandals, such as the fallout from the Fast and Furious investigation and the probe into the administration’s press leaks about cyber warfare and other secret matters seem to be merely obstacles to the all-consuming task of securing 270 Electoral College votes. To the extent that they rivet his attention, it is only to the extent of figuring out how to damp down the controversy until after the election.

But these scandals should serve as a reminder to the president that even if he is able to win this year, the following four years may turn out to be an unremitting hell.

It is a rule of politics that second terms tend to be unhappy times for even the most popular of presidents. While presidents may think that they will be free of constraints once the burden of the need to think about re-election is lifted from their shoulders, in many cases the opposite is true. Though a re-elected president has great power, the extra four years is often spent playing defense as Congress, the press and the public begin sifting through the mistakes and scandals. No matter how great the hopes that may have been engendered by his initial campaign, even Barack Obama is subject to the laws of political gravity.

That is why the probes of Fast and Furious and the security leaks are not merely damaging in of themselves but serve as a preview of what a second Obama administration will look like. Right now, the president may think that by stalling Congress with spurious claims of executive privilege he can avoid the consequences of the Justice Department’s misconduct during the course of the Mexican gun running scam. He may also believe that the senior staffers who were undoubtedly guilty of spilling the beans about cyber warfare research and other sensitive matters relating to the confrontation with Iran will be able to prevaricate long enough so as to avoid any political consequences from these transgressions.

But he is kidding himself if he believes victory in November will make these problems go away. The investigations of these and perhaps other transgressions will only gather steam.

So long as either the Senate or the House of Representatives remain in the hands of the Republicans, the Obama White House will be under siege in the next four years as the scandal probes intensify. And if, as is very possible, the GOP will run both, he will not only find his legislative initiatives dead on arrival, but also be forced to watch as the trail of evidence on these scandals leads perilously close to the Oval Office.

Though we only tend to speak of presidents being lame ducks in their last year in office, it is a rare second term that does not expose the arrogance of power that tends to attach itself to many who work in the White House. President Obama was relatively lucky throughout most of his first term in that he and his top staff managed to avoid being mired in scandals even as they picked policy fights that often proved to be losers. But it is likely that Fast and Furious and the leaks will be only the beginning of a series of second term problems that will pick off senior administration figures and even further taint this administration’s reputation. Victory in November will be just the start of his problems, not their solution.

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Barack Obama’s Awful June Just Got Worse

President Obama was already suffering one of the worst imaginable months for an incumbent president in an election year – including a dismal jobs report and declining factory orders, falling approval ratings (including in swing states), the overwhelming victory of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the president’s widely ridiculed claim the private sector is “doing fine,” Bill Clinton’s various apostasies, the realization that Obama might be outspent in this election by Mitt Romney, and a major speech in Ohio that was panned even by sympathetic liberals. (Jim Geraghty provides a nice summary and analysis here.)

But it may be that the first half of June was a walk in the park compared to the latter part of the month. Because two events – one which just happened and one that will happen next week – may turn out to be powerful, and even crippling, body blows to the president.

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President Obama was already suffering one of the worst imaginable months for an incumbent president in an election year – including a dismal jobs report and declining factory orders, falling approval ratings (including in swing states), the overwhelming victory of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the president’s widely ridiculed claim the private sector is “doing fine,” Bill Clinton’s various apostasies, the realization that Obama might be outspent in this election by Mitt Romney, and a major speech in Ohio that was panned even by sympathetic liberals. (Jim Geraghty provides a nice summary and analysis here.)

But it may be that the first half of June was a walk in the park compared to the latter part of the month. Because two events – one which just happened and one that will happen next week – may turn out to be powerful, and even crippling, body blows to the president.

The first one is the burgeoning “Fast and Furious” scandal, which has now been elevated from a secondary story to a major one. The president’s assertion of executive privilege is without foundation–a transparent effort to protect his attorney general, and possibly himself, from a legitimate congressional inquiry about a scandalous policy failure. The more this story unwinds, the more obvious this will become.

The man who promised us a “new standard of openness” and the “most transparent and accountable administration in history,” who said his administration would create “an unprecedented level of openness in government” and would “work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration” is now engaged in what could reasonably be construed to be a cover up. (If you’d like your belly laugh for the day, you might take a look at this document, Open Government 2.0 (!), put out by the Department of Justice – which claims, “The Department of Justice is committed to achieving the president’s goal of making this the most transparent administration in history.”)

This is Obama’s first bona fide, full-scale scandal. The president, with his assertion of executive privilege, has now placed himself at the center of the storm. And he’s done so with less than 140 days before the election. One can only imagine what the administration has to hide in order for Obama to have done what he did.

In addition, next week, the Supreme Court will in all likelihood announce its decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. If the Court overturns the ACA, in whole or in part, it will be devastating to the president. After all, his signature domestic achievement — one which dominated American politics for much of Obama’s first term — will not only have been judged to be unconstitutional; it will also have proven to be a colossal waste of the country’s time and energy. And even if the Court doesn’t overturn the Affordable Care Act, it will thrust to the fore what presidential scholar George C. Edwards III calls “perhaps the least popular major domestic policy passed in the last century” (which helps explain why the president rarely speaks about this “achievement” in the run-up to the election).

Elections are rarely decided in June, and this one won’t be, either. But history may look back at this as the month when the president fell behind Romney and never fully recovered.

We’ll know soon enough.

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F&F Victims’ Families Deserve Answers

The White House claims Republicans are playing politics by investigating the botched Fast and Furious gunrunner program. Attorney General Eric Holder thinks it’s all a bunch of “political theater.” Rep. Nancy Pelosi insists it’s time for everyone to move on. But the families of U.S. Border Agent Brian Terry and ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapate, who were killed by guns connected to the Fast and Furious, can’t move on. They don’t have that luxury.

In a statement yesterday, Terry’s family blasted Obama for “compound[ing] this tragedy” by obstructing the investigation:

Terry family Attorney Pat McGroder on Wednesday released the following statement from Terry’s parents Josephine Terry and Kent Terry Sr.: “Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to fully disclose the documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious and President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege serves to compound this tragedy. It denies the Terry family and the American people the truth.”

The Terrys said that their son “was killed by members of a Mexican drug cartel armed with weapons from this failed Justice Department gun trafficking investigation. For more than 18 months we have been asking our federal government for justice and accountability. The documents sought by the House Oversight Committee and associated with Operation Fast and Furious should be produced and turned over to the committee. Our son lost his life protecting this nation, and it is very disappointing that we are now faced with an administration that seems more concerned with protecting themselves rather than revealing the truth behind Operation Fast and Furious.”

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The White House claims Republicans are playing politics by investigating the botched Fast and Furious gunrunner program. Attorney General Eric Holder thinks it’s all a bunch of “political theater.” Rep. Nancy Pelosi insists it’s time for everyone to move on. But the families of U.S. Border Agent Brian Terry and ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapate, who were killed by guns connected to the Fast and Furious, can’t move on. They don’t have that luxury.

In a statement yesterday, Terry’s family blasted Obama for “compound[ing] this tragedy” by obstructing the investigation:

Terry family Attorney Pat McGroder on Wednesday released the following statement from Terry’s parents Josephine Terry and Kent Terry Sr.: “Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to fully disclose the documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious and President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege serves to compound this tragedy. It denies the Terry family and the American people the truth.”

The Terrys said that their son “was killed by members of a Mexican drug cartel armed with weapons from this failed Justice Department gun trafficking investigation. For more than 18 months we have been asking our federal government for justice and accountability. The documents sought by the House Oversight Committee and associated with Operation Fast and Furious should be produced and turned over to the committee. Our son lost his life protecting this nation, and it is very disappointing that we are now faced with an administration that seems more concerned with protecting themselves rather than revealing the truth behind Operation Fast and Furious.”

Meanwhile, Zapata’s family filed a wrongful death claim against the Department of Justice and other agencies yesterday.

Democrats argue the investigation is a political witch hunt, while Republicans insist it’s about accountability. Whichever is true, few can deny that the Terry and Zapata families deserve answers and are entitled to justice. By shielding the DOJ from further investigation, President Obama is preventing these families from pursuing the true circumstances of their sons’ deaths — these two men who gave their lives in service to the public. And that is the real tragedy.

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Obama’s Surprise Decision and the Media

There have been some great examples of mainstream reporting on Fast and Furious, but for the most part the MSM has brushed it off as a puffed-up controversy kept alive by Republicans who enjoy antagonizing Eric Holder. Now that President Obama has started acting as if the White House has something to hide, it seems very possible that the long-held conservative suspicions are right — this isn’t a manufactured political issue, but one that could go into much deeper, shadier territory than initially thought.

If Obama was truly concerned about the investigation becoming a political distraction — as the White House maintains — then why would he insert himself into the controversy and throw fuel on the fire?

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There have been some great examples of mainstream reporting on Fast and Furious, but for the most part the MSM has brushed it off as a puffed-up controversy kept alive by Republicans who enjoy antagonizing Eric Holder. Now that President Obama has started acting as if the White House has something to hide, it seems very possible that the long-held conservative suspicions are right — this isn’t a manufactured political issue, but one that could go into much deeper, shadier territory than initially thought.

If Obama was truly concerned about the investigation becoming a political distraction — as the White House maintains — then why would he insert himself into the controversy and throw fuel on the fire?

House Speaker John Boehner is apparently wondering the same thing:

“Until now, everyone believed that the decisions regarding ‘Fast and Furious’ were confined to the Department of Justice,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement.

“The White House decision to invoke executive privilege implies that White House officials were either involved in the ‘Fast and Furious’ operation or the cover-up that followed. The Administration has always insisted that wasn’t the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?” Buck said.

Administration officials dispute the implication, pointing to several cases under Republican administrations where executive privilege was invoked on behalf of agencies.

If Obama’s White House is trying to shield its participation in Fast and Furious or a subsequent cover up, that runs counter to a Watergate-era Supreme Court ruling, which holds that executive privilege can’t be used to obscure wrongdoing. Todd Gaziano writes at the Heritage Foundation:

First, the Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon (1974) held that executive privilege cannot be invoked at all if the purpose is to shield wrongdoing. The courts held that Nixon’s purported invocation of executive privilege was illegitimate, in part, for that reason. There is reason to suspect that this might be the case in the Fast and Furious cover-up and stonewalling effort. Congress needs to get to the bottom of that question to prevent an illegal invocation of executive privilege and further abuses of power. That will require an index of the withheld documents and an explanation of why each of them is covered by executive privilege—and more.

Will the media accept the White House’s defense that it’s simply trying to stop a political witch hunt? Or will Obama’s surprise decision to invoke executive privilege be the catalyst that finally springs this story into the mainstream?

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What is the Obama Administration Hiding, and Why Are They Hiding It?

Attorney General Eric Holder has a problem with the accuracy of his congressional testimonies.

For example, on May 3, 2011, Holder – when asked when he became aware of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, told the House Judiciary Committee, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” But as CBS News reported, “Internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.” This forced Holder to confess to Senate Republicans that the Justice Department had provided “inaccurate” information to Congress during his May 3 testimony.

Now comes Retraction Number Two.

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Attorney General Eric Holder has a problem with the accuracy of his congressional testimonies.

For example, on May 3, 2011, Holder – when asked when he became aware of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, told the House Judiciary Committee, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” But as CBS News reported, “Internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.” This forced Holder to confess to Senate Republicans that the Justice Department had provided “inaccurate” information to Congress during his May 3 testimony.

Now comes Retraction Number Two.

In a memo today from Republican Senator Charles Grassley, we’re informed, “The Justice Department has retracted a second statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee. During a hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that his predecessor, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, had been briefed about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver. Now, the Department is retracting that statement and claiming Holder ‘inadvertently’ made that claim to the Committee. The Department’s letter failed to apologize to former Attorney General Mukasey for the false accusation.”

Grassley went on to make this statement:

This is the second time in nearly seven months that the Department has gotten its facts wrong about gunwalking. Attorney General Holder accused Attorney General Mukasey, without producing any evidence, of having been briefed on gunwalking in Wide Receiver. The case Attorney General Mukasey was briefed on, Hernandez, is fundamentally different from both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious since it involved cooperation with the Mexican government. Attorney General Holder’s retraction should have included an apology to the former Attorney General.

In his eagerness to blame the previous administration, Attorney General Holder got his facts wrong. And his tactic didn’t bring us any closer to understanding how a bad policy evolved and continued. Bad policy is bad policy, regardless of how many administrations carried it out. Ironically, the only document produced yesterday by the Department appears to show that senior officials in the Attorney General’s own department were strategizing about how to keep gunwalking in both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious under wraps.

So let’s consider where we are. Congress has been misled several times by the Attorney General. We don’t yet know if Holder committed perjury or was simply incompetent in making the claims he did. But we do know that President Obama, who was once a harsh critic of executive privilege when it came to his predecessor, has suddenly discovered a real fondness for it. Obama, in fact, is now invoking executive privilege in order to prevent Congress for getting the documents it needs in order to investigate a program that was, by any measure, a scandalous failure that led to the deaths of innocent Americans and Mexicans.

Which raises these questions: As Alana noted earlier, what is the Obama administration hiding? And why are they hiding it?

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Executive Power Grab on F&F Documents

Because nothing says “I have nothing to hide” like an executive power grab to block investigators from looking at government documents:

President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over documents sought by a House committee investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting, according to a letter to the panel Wednesday from Deputy Attorney Gen. James Cole.

The move means the Department of Justice can withhold the documents from the House Oversight Committee, which was scheduled to consider a contempt measure Wednesday against [Attorney General Eric] Holder.

The immediate question raised by this sudden assertion of executive people is whether President Obama was involved in the scandal. Why would he put himself at risk of serious political backlash if this was all about simply protecting Holder — who is about to be charged with contempt of Congress anyway? And if there is something damaging about Obama or top White House officials in those papers, maybe that explains why Holder still has a job despite the growing calls for his resignation.

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Because nothing says “I have nothing to hide” like an executive power grab to block investigators from looking at government documents:

President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over documents sought by a House committee investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting, according to a letter to the panel Wednesday from Deputy Attorney Gen. James Cole.

The move means the Department of Justice can withhold the documents from the House Oversight Committee, which was scheduled to consider a contempt measure Wednesday against [Attorney General Eric] Holder.

The immediate question raised by this sudden assertion of executive people is whether President Obama was involved in the scandal. Why would he put himself at risk of serious political backlash if this was all about simply protecting Holder — who is about to be charged with contempt of Congress anyway? And if there is something damaging about Obama or top White House officials in those papers, maybe that explains why Holder still has a job despite the growing calls for his resignation.

The Department of Justice and the Obama administration is going to try to defend this as a necessary response to a baldly political witch hunt by House Republicans. But will the public buy that at this point? Not only are there numerous signs of behind-the-scenes shadiness that we already know about — the timing inconsistencies, Holder’s misstatements — there’s also the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent at the top of the story. Is the Obama administration actually going to argue that the family of Agent Brian Terry doesn’t deserve to know the full circumstances surrounding his death?

Obama’s assertion of executive privilege turned this from a political back-and-forth between the DOJ and a congressional committee into a full-blown scandal ensnaring the president. What exactly is hiding in those papers that pushed Obama to take this risk?

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