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ROBINSON: Fast and Furious -- the witch hunt

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- In 2006, when George W. Bush was president, federal law enforcement officials came up with a spectacularly dumb idea: Allow powerful firearms purchased in the United States to "walk" across the Mexico border, where authorities would trace the weapons and eventually nab the big-time criminals who supply guns to the ultra-violent Mexican drug cartels.

It is no surprise that most of the weapons promptly disappeared.

But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, undeterred by failure, went back to the "gun-walking" technique again the following year -- and used it once more in 2009, after President Obama had taken office, in the tragic fiasco known as Operation Fast and Furious.

These are the facts, and they don't cover any Justice Department officials with glory. But neither do they remotely justify the partisan witch hunt by House Republicans who threaten, without legitimate cause, to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. Obama has responded by asserting executive privilege -- effectively shutting down the inquisition.

The House wants to go fishing in a vast sea of documents, some of which relate to ongoing investigations. As a believer in sunshine and disclosure, I don't much care for questionable claims of executive privilege. But I like the politically motivated sideshow the GOP is staging even less.

Holder called the contempt threat "an extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action ... an election-year tactic intended to distract attention."

His frustration -- especially with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee -- is understandable. Holder has acknowledged that Fast and Furious was a mistake. He has turned over more than 7,600 documents relating to the botched operation. He has personally testified on Capitol Hill about the matter on nine occasions.

Indeed, Fast and Furious was a grievous error. All told, suspects were allowed to purchase more than 2,000 firearms -- including AK-47s, .50-caliber sniper rifles, powerful handguns -- and fewer than 700 were ever seen again. Of the weapons that were recovered, many were found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States. But even as it became clear that Fast and Furious guns were being used as instruments of mayhem, the operation continued.

Then in December 2010, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in a shootout with suspected illegal immigrants in Arizona. Two assault rifles found at the scene were identified as Fast and Furious weapons; it could not be determined whether one of them fired the bullet that killed Terry.

In testimony before Issa's committee, ATF agent John Dodson, a critic of the operation, stated the obvious: "I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any legitimate law enforcement interest."

Congress has not just the right but the duty to investigate how such a bad idea as gun-walking was conceived and executed over five years -- and to make sure nothing of the sort happens again. The problem is that Issa isn't interested in the truth. He just wants to score political points.

Issa's focus isn't on the operation itself. It's on what Holder and Justice Department officials did or did not say last year when questions were first raised.

What Issa wants to do is manufacture something that can be portrayed as a high-level Obama administration cover-up. The problem is: A cover-up of what? Holder has acknowledged that the operation, of which he says he was unaware, was wrong. He has provided documents showing how wrong the operation was, and why. He has taken responsibility for the whole thing, because he is the boss. As cover-ups go, this is pretty lame.

What should Congress be investigating? The obvious first step is learning how officials in two administrations convinced themselves it was sensible to stand back and watch as powerful weapons passed into the hands of Mexican drug smugglers.

Then Congress should look into the overall flow of firearms from the United States into Mexico. The Fast and Furious weapons were just a small part of a much larger problem. Mexican officials have complained for years that lax U.S. gun laws have the effect of worsening drug-related violence along the border. The damage done by cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine smuggled north across the border is mirrored by the damage done by guns smuggled south.

If Issa really wants to save U.S. and Mexican lives, he should convene hearings on banning the sale of high-powered weapons. I think Holder would be happy to testify.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/eugenerobinson.

Comments

OedipusTax 2 years, 2 months ago

Watergate didn't involve murder. Fast and Furious does. Executive privilege is an admission that there is administration wrong doing, which would harm Obama's re-election. The "witch hunt" adjective above negates any realistic objectivity of this highly partisan, biased writer.

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Jan 2 years, 2 months ago

So what was the wrong doing by the last three Republican Presidents?

President George W. Bush: Executive privilege 6 times

President George H.W. Bush: Executive privilege 1 time

President Ronald Reagan: Executive privilege 3 times

This is the first time by Present Obama. Face it, the republicans are attempting to get the President to release documents that go far beyond the weapons fiasco. The President did not block any documents directly related with the planning or execution of this operation. Note that it is, once again, a fiasco from the Bush administration which the current administration is in the process of investigating and the cleaning up of the resulting mess.

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FordGalaxy 2 years, 2 months ago

Jan, Operation Fast and Furious has nothing to do with the Bush Administration. As JV pointed out below, the Bush Administration ran a program called Operation Wide Receiver, which was a controlled delivery of firearms couples with tracking. Operation Fast and Furious started during the Obama Administration and lacked the oversight that Wide Receiver had.

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jack 2 years, 2 months ago

President Bill Clinton: Executive privilege 14 times

But blind party allegiance induces selective memory.

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R 2 years, 2 months ago

GREAT! Lets NOT fix ANYTHING!!

Hope and Change.... Hope and Change

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kevin 2 years, 2 months ago

wish it was your son that got killed with one of those guns. Maybe you would think a little different. Glad you voted for Obama. Hope your job is next to go.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the laugh! "....negates any realistic objectivity of this highly partisan, biased writer." Talk about the kettle calling the pot black! This is good.

On another note, curious how you came up with your non de plume. Oedipus, the son of a king that killed his father and married his mother. Are you wanting to tax motherhood?

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news2me 2 years, 2 months ago

"Talk about the kettle calling the pot black!"

That is Racist! (according to your mindest in that small drooling smiley face of a head).

Thanks for the laugh (and the lack of contribution to the subject)

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JV 2 years, 2 months ago

It’s important to note the difference in Operation Wide Receiver that the Bush administration oversaw to Fast and Furious. Operation Wide Receiver, used the common tactic of “controlled delivery,” whereby agents would allow an illegal transaction to take place, closely follow the movements of the arms, and then descend on the culprits. But Fast and Furious is different because it was “uncontrolled delivery,” whereby the criminals were essentially allowed to drop off the map. Perhaps more importantly, Wide Receiver was conducted with the cooperation of the Mexican government. Fast and Furious was not.

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FordGalaxy 2 years, 2 months ago

JV - Don't say that. It ruins the liberal illusion that Obama is all that is good and right and just and that George W Bush is a seething cauldron of hateful evil. Nevermind that you are right. Nevermind that the program under Bush ended before Obama ever took office. This is George Bush's fault, by God.

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jack 2 years, 2 months ago

Ford- you beat me to it!

Operation Wide Receiver was conducted from 2006 until Oct 2007, when it was shut down. Fast and Furious started in 2009 and was halted in early 2011, when investigations began following the death of Brian Terry.

The fact that this has been under investigation for a year and a half would seem to negate the idea that this is a last-minute pre-election witch hunt.

But it is, still, all Bush's fault.

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MelissaL 2 years, 2 months ago

I'm guessing when the real motives of F&F are made transparent (by the Supreme Court?), it's going to be ugly. A border agent murdered in a backwards PR stunt to promote more anti-gun laws? Stabilizing a foreign government by propping up the No. 2 drug cartel in Mexico to avert anarchy? These chowderheads lost track of the guns before they even left the U.S.!

Not alot of confidence in this leadership...quoting Jerry Seinfeld to a bumbling George Costanza: "So, you want to be my Latex salesman"? It's no longer entertaining to watch these bumbling fools.

Let's get to things straight: Obama inherited nothing from Bush. He wanted the job and promised to correct the fundamental problems that were evident for all to see. He failed and continues to do so. Secondly, all declarations of Presidential privilege are not created equally. Try as you might you can't equivocate the meaning between "lightning" and "lightning bug"; though they both sound about the same.

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FordGalaxy 2 years, 2 months ago

I wouldn't say that Obama inherited nothing, as all Presidents are left with issues from previous administrations. What is mind-boggling about the current administration is this:

Less than a year into the Bush Administration, the left was already blaming George Bush for things. Now, three-and-a-half years into the Obama Administration, it is still Bush's fault. Obama ran on a promise of an open, transparent administration (which hasn't happened), and after his election he basically promised to cut the deficit in half (have you noticed that you don't hear that quote in the media anymore?).

So, yes, Obama did inherit things from Bush. But remember that George Bush inherited a housing bubble from Clinton that was on the verge of popping. There was only so much Bush could've done to stop that. Bush also inherited an intelligence community that was fractured and uncommunicative, thanks to the efforts of Jamie Gorelick. What Obama inherited was bad, I'll grant. But at some point he has to accept responsibility for the fact that his own policies have done nothing to strengthen the American economy. In fact, his regulatory practices have but small businesses in a wary fram of mind, unsure if they want to invest.

And now we see that Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, is in trouble. He's already been extremely selective about the cases he'll prosecute (note that the Justice Department dropped charges of voter intimdation against two members of the Philadelphia New Black Panther party, even with video of these men standing outside a polling place in military garb and holding clubs; and Holder's Department of Justice refused to comment on the fact that the New Black Panther Party offered up a bounty for "citizen's arrest" of George Zimmerman after the Trayvon Martin slaying. I can't help but imagine the outcry from Holder and others if the KKK had offered a bounty for the "citizen's arrest" of a black man.) And now Obama, who we were told had no knowledge of Fast & Furious, has invoked Executive privilege to safeguard documents pertaining to the case, seemingly to protect Holder.

But like I said earlier, it's all Bush's fault.

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kevin 2 years, 2 months ago

The last 2 yrs of the Bush presidency was controlled by a Democratic Congress. How convenient you Liberals want to forget that fact. Let the fact also be written that it was the last 2 yrs of the Clinton presidency that was controlled by a GOP controlled Congress. Which period ended in a surplus, Clinton's. MAKE MY DAY: PASS THIS ON TO A LIBERAL.

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news2me 2 years, 2 months ago

"Fast and Furious -- the witch hunt"

If the witch hunt doesn't gain traction, next on the media's agenda will be the race card. How dare we question his royal highness Obama?

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FordGalaxy 2 years, 2 months ago

Actually, Nancy Pelosi has already said that the reason Republicans are so adamant about getting Eric Holder is because Holder has stood agaisnt Voter ID laws. Now, we all know that Republicans are a bunch of white-power-racists who seek any opportunity to disenfranchise minority voters. Since Holder stood against them, this is how the GOP takes him out of the way.

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kevin 2 years, 2 months ago

The Democrats admitted the purpose of this F&F fiasco was to highlight the issue on the 2nd amendment; stop allowing big guns to be freely sold to good citizens. Sorry rats, we have that right to protect ourselves with big guns. This government of ours may one day turn on you and then you will be glad you own some real guns to protect your family.

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Jan 2 years, 2 months ago

FALSE: Some right wing bloggers have posted this but their are no facts to support it. If this were the motive, then it there could be no explanation for the operation which was first done in Bush's administration.

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jack 2 years, 2 months ago

Jan- Why would the motives for the two different operations necessarily have to be the same?

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R 2 years, 2 months ago

Based on this column we believe the author must NOT watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - but does get his ideas in a packet from the DNC and friends.

Jon did a scathing opening on Thurs night show about the "Witch Hunt" line the democrats are putting out nationally and called it complete BS. It's got to be BAD if he picks Obama completely apart.

So if I could at this point, I would personally ask the First Lady if she wants to serve a side of apple slices with the "mess" known as her husband's administration?

(Since we can't have "fries with that" now)

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kevin 2 years, 2 months ago

THIS COLUMN IS NEVER BASED ON ALL THE FACTS. Surprised people still buy the GDP with this Eugene writter.

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notblind 2 years, 2 months ago

We don't need a ban on high powered guns, we need a ban on high powered idiots.

On the other hand, this is ANOTHER perfect example of why we need to seal the hostile southern border.

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gwinnettisgreat1 2 years, 2 months ago

Robinson: Blaming Bush and Defending his brotha from another motha.

Typical of his latest articles...

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kevin 2 years, 2 months ago

we will see THurs. 6/28 when the House votes for "contempt" of the AG and the crooked Obama, both tearing the U.S. apart by lying and cheating, and feeling above the law.

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