The big question from last week’s assertion of executive privilege by Barack Obama was what, exactly, was so troublesome that the White House couldn’t have Attorney General Eric Holder release it. It certainly wasn’t to protect the precedent of confidentiality of presidential advice; Obama and Holder have insisted that the President had no knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious until it made the headlines. Even the assertion of privilege attempted to skirt that issue by relying on deliberative process rather than direct presidential privilege, although it seems almost certain that deliberative process won’t shield Holder and others at executive agencies. Clearly, the documents showsomethingObama finds damaging — but what is it?
Rep. Darrell Issa has headed the Congressional probe as House Oversight chair, and he told Jake Tapper yesterday that he thinks that the entire operation was political. Tapper sounded skeptical, and Issa responds by pointing to Holder’s actions after the scandal broke:
TAPPER: You really think that there’s a possibility that they were sending guns across the border not because they were trying to get people in the Mexican drug cartels, not because they were trying to figure out drug — I mean, gun trafficking, but because they were trying to push gun control?
ISSA: Two things quickly. First of all, this was so flawed that you can’t believe they expected to actually get criminal prosecutions as a result of it. So the level of flaw — flaw — flaw, if that’s a word, here is huge.
But here’s the real answer as to gun control. We have e-mail from people involved in this that are talking about using what they’re finding here to support the — basically assault weapons ban or greater reporting.
So chicken or egg? We don’t know which came first; we probably never will. We do know that during this — this Fast and Furious operation, there were e-mails in which they’re saying we can use this as part of additional reporting or things like assault weapons ban. So the people involved saw the benefit of what — what they were gathering. Whether or not that was their original purpose, we probably will never know.
And I — and I take people at their word that this started off in some way as an idea where they could get good information, they could, in fact, roll up bad guys. But after it was out of control and people are saying, we’re letting too many guns walk, those kinds of e-mails occurred, we — we have people who also were being opportunists.
And, remember, Eric Holder issued a four-state reporting for long rifles and used what he had had here. Right in the middle of the scandal, he issues that for four states. They never needed this information. They never needed the reporting to get this information. These federally licensed gun dealers came to ATF and told them they had straw-buyers, told them they had suspicious buyers, and turned them on to the very people. And one of these people bought over 700 weapons, just one straw-buyer.
So it’s very clear the system was working, where ATF was getting information voluntarily from licensed gun dealers. They don’t need the additional reporting, but they got it anyway, and they used gun violence to the border and this operation as part of it. So I think when you look at the chicken or egg, there’s proof that they certainly were opportunist.
Holder’s orders might be a chicken-egg issue as well. After the scandal broke, the DoJ may have wanted a way to frame the issue as one of gun control rather than incompetence. As Issa says, the entire structure of the ATF operation was so poor that it’s hard to see how anyone could have expected to get convictions in court from the results. Is that more incompetence, or an indication that the DoJ wasn’t really interested in convictions? That’s the big question, and one that Issa wants answered — from the documents that Obama is currently hiding behind a very weak claim of executive privilege.
First, Fast and Furious does not appear to have been the brainchild of President Obama or Attorney General Holder. Rather, the program reportedly was formulated by the ATF in Phoenix in response to an edict from Washington to focus on eliminating arms trafficking networks, as opposed to capturing low-level buyers, as had occurred under traditional interdiction programs. If Fast and Furious had been the product of a conspiracy by the administration to promote gun control legislation, the program would have come from the top down, not from the bottom up.
Now, it’s possible that a thorough review of documents would show that, contrary to current understanding, the plan originated in the White House or with Eric Holder. But it seems unlikely. For if this had happened, those who have been blamed for the program would likely have said they were following edicts from the highest reaches of the government.
Eric Holder’s claim that he knew nothing about Fast and Furious is implausible. But this doesn’t mean that he and/or the president came up with the idea. As far as I know, there is no evidence as of now that either did.
Second, Obama and Holder probably would not have believed that increased violence in Mexico could lead to tougher regulation of guns in the U.S. Americans simply don’t care enough about Mexico to alter domestic policy based on what occurs there, especially when it comes to an issue as passionately and endlessly argued as gun control. Americans view violence in Mexico the way they viewed violence in Colombia – unfortunate, typical, and not our problem at any fundamental level.
I’m not so sure. First, I recall the effort by administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to claim that Mexican gun violence was our problem by using falsely inflated figures of American origins of drug-cartel guns. I wrote about the mythmaking in April 2009, long before the Fast and Furious scandal got exposed (and before the operation had even begun). I warned what the outcome of this claim would be at the time:
So why make up the lie? The more conspiratorial will conclude that the Obama administration wants to have a pretext for seizing weapons. Public statements like those made by Hillary Clinton certainly put pressure on the US to take some sort of action, if we’re admitting to being the problem. So far, the Obama administration has not proposed a solution to this mythical problem, but we will want to keep a very close eye when they do.
I don’t think Issa’s suggestion is far-fetched at all. And at this point, it’s incumbent on the President and his staff to release all of the documents on this deadly program so that we can find out exactly who knew what, when they knew it, and why the Obama administration responded to this supposed problem by flooding Mexico with guns they didn’t bother to track.