I recall a time when Democrats regularly lionized whistleblowers … during the Bush administration, of course. The media hailed them as heroes; Time Magazine even made them the collective Person of the Year for 2002. Democrats loved them so much that they ran one of the whistleblowers on that cover in my Congressional district in 2006 against Rep. John Kline, a former Marine colonel that Colleen Rowley’s campaign photoshopped into a Nazi uniform for their campaign website. Needless to say, Rowley has disappeared back into well-deserved obscurity, while Kline still represents my district.
These days, in the Obama era, Democrats and the media seem a lot less admiring of whistleblowers, oddly enough. Imagine for a moment that Rowley had been assigned a new boss at the FBI after her whistleblowing, one that had told others that the agency needed to “get whatever dirt we can” on her to “take her down,” and especially if that boss had previously said in the presence of at least one witness that the FBI needed to “f**k” said whistleblower. Can you imagine the media meltdown that would have occurred? Well, you’re going to have to be satisfied with imagining it, but Senator Charles Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa want answers as to why two Operation Fast and Furious whistleblowers got assigned to work for a man who said exactly that about them:
In a Friday letter to the DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Grassley and Issa said they’re now concerned retaliation is much more likely following Thursday’s votes to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal and civil contempt of Congress.
“We just learned that ATF senior management placed two of the main whistleblowers who have testified before Congress about Fast and Furious under the supervision of someone who vowed to retaliate against them,” they wrote before describing how senior political figures have made dangerous threats before.
Grassley and Issa said that in early 2011, right around the time Grassley first made public the whistleblowers’ allegations about Fast and Furious, Scot Thomasson – then the chief of the ATF’s Public Affairs Division – said, according to an eyewitness account: “We need to get whatever dirt we can on these guys [the whistleblowers] and take them down.”
Thomasson also allegedly said that: “All these whistleblowers have axes to grind. ATF needs to f—k these guys.”
According to Grassley and Issa, when Thomasson was asked about whistleblowers’ allegations that guns were allowed to walk, Thomasson said he “didn’t know and didn’t care.”
That’s not all that Issa and Grassley want to know, either. Departing Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote the now-infamous letter of February 2011 to Grassley that asserted the DoJ had no knowledge of gunwalking in OF&F. Newly released e-mails now show Weich and former acting ATF head Ken Melson cc’ed on e-mails discussing how to respond to Congressional inquiries on just this point. A January 12, 2011 memo from ATF circulated within the agency briefs officials about how to respond to this question:
“Some media reports, referencing an anonymous ATF official, claim that ATF knowingly “walked” about 1,900 firearms across the US-Mexico border as part of this operation. What can you tell me about that?” — Or — “The news release/indictment indicates that A TF waited until nearly 2,000 guns were
illegally purchased before arresting the straw buyers in this case. Why did ATF wait so long?”
ANSWER: It’s not against the law for an individual to purchase 10,20 or 50 or even 100 guns at one time. It’s not illegal to own or possess hundreds of guns; however, it is illegal to straw purchase firearms for those who cannot possess them legally. Operation Fast and Furious became a long-term investigation because of the amount of time it took to gather enough evidence against those who were supplying these violent criminals with the tools of their trade. We needed to ensure that when we did arrest these individuals, justice would be served.
ANSWER: Knowing what it takes to prosecute these types of federal violations is the best way to understand why this investigation took as long as it did and utilized so many resources. Investigations of this type are often long and complicated due to the fact that firearms are a legal commodity being diverted for illegal use. When conducting these investigations we have found that the end user of often shrouded by many layers of straw purchasers and middlemen whose sole purpose is to hide the connection between the first retail purchaser and the violent criminal. Determining when the firearm leaves legal commerce can be extremely difficult and therefore hard to prove.
In other words, the gunwalking was common enough knowledge that the ATF prepared a formal memo (see attachment 2) to instruct officials how to respond to questions about it on January 11, 2011. Yet when Congress asked Weich to inform them, Weich prepared a response three weeks after that ATF briefing memo was published that outright denied it ever happened, and the DoJ did not correct that testimony for another ten months. Either Weich is one of the most incompetent bureaucrats in recent history, or he and the ATF were trying to cover up their gunwalking from Congress. Intimidating whistleblowers had to be part of that strategy; Weich’s position would have been — and turned out to be — untenable while whistleblowers kept tipping off Congress.
So when will the media fall back in love with whistleblowers? I’ll go out on a limb and predict it will be when a Republican gets elected President. May that day come soon.