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 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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.”
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?
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.
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.