Fox News reported Tuesday on the Administration’s defense of its executive privilege claims against congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious. According to White House spokesman Eric Schultz, House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa’s theory that President Obama seeks to conceal high-level White House connections to Fast and Furious “has as much merit as his absurd contention that Operation Fast and Furious was created in order to promote gun control.”
Schultz went on to assert that Obama’s exercise of privilege “is consistent with executive branch legal precedent for the past three decades.” That’s a matter for the lawyers to hash out, but there’s considerable precedent against the notion of using executive privilege to cover up criminal wrongdoing.
The Fox report notes that “ironically, the documents at the heart of the current argument are not directly related to the workings of Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed guns to ‘walk’ from Arizona to Mexico in hopes they could be tracked. Rather, Issa wants internal communications from February 2011, when the administration denied knowledge of gun-walking, to the end of the year, when officials acknowledged the denial was in error.”
That’s not really “ironic.” Broadly speaking, there are two matters of concern to the House Oversight committee: Operation Fast and Furious itself, and false statements made by Justice officials during the early stages of congressional investigation. Both of these matters are important, because lying to Congress is wrong. It’s impossible to exercise oversight over anything if Administration officials feel free to deceive the investigators, with executive privilege serving as a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card when all else fails. It’s weird to live in a post-Clinton world where perjury is only occasionally a serious matter, depending on who does the lying under oath, and which authority is being lied to.
There’s an old saying about government malfeasance, which holds that “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” That’s not true in this case – Fast and Furious killed over three hundred people – but the cover-up is still a serious matter. Lying to Congress is different than refusing to answer a question from Congress. If the Fast and Furious documents are a proper subject for executive privilege, then why did Obama wait until the eve of the Attorney General’s censure for contempt of Congress to assert the privilege? Why didn’t he assert it back in February 2011, instead of sending minions to make false statements to Issa’s committee?
The obvious answer is that Obama and Holder made purely political calculations that this scandal would be swept under the rug by the media, giving them plenty of room to stonewall investigators until after the 2012 elections. The first level of stonewalling involved denials that were indisputably proven false, and subsequently retracted.
Level Two involved claiming that the surrender of documents would imperil criminal prosecutions under way because of Operation Fast and Furious. That little tactic quietly dissolved when it became apparent there really weren’t any notable prosecutions coming out of the gun-walking program… which is one of its more curious attributes.
Here’s how Fox News describes Operation Fast and Furious: “Agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in Arizona abandoned the agency’s usual practice of intercepting all weapons they believed to be illicitly purchased. Instead, the goal of gun-walking was to track such weapons to high-level arms traffickers who long had eluded prosecution and to dismantle their networks.” (Emphasis mine.)
But that was not the goal of Fast and Furious, at least not in practical terms. No attempt to “track” these weapons was made at all. In fact, ATF agents who tried to engage in such detective work were actively discouraged from continuing. Unlike the Bush-era Operation Wide Receiver, which Holder and Obama have lately been trying to float as some sort of blanket excuse for their actions, Fast and Furious involved no radio tracking devices in the guns. Also unlike Wide Receiver, the Obama operation was deliberately kept secret from the Mexican government, whose assistance in “tracking” the weapons through Mexico would have been invaluable. The only way these guns have ever been found is when they turn up at crime scenes, usually next to a corpse – and hundreds of them are still missing!
Furthermore, some of the “high-level arms traffickers” ostensibly “targeted” by this operation turned out to be FBI informants. On the rare occasion the Fast and Furious brass had a high-level arms trafficker in its grasp, they let him go.
Level Three of the Administration’s foot-dragging was the preposterous “internal investigation” that Holder constantly references, and which has now allegedly been in progress for years. (How’s that coming along, by the way? Did the President ask about it before he asserted executive privilege claims?) By no conceivable stretch of the imagination would it take Justice investigators, with unfettered access to the documents being shielded from Congress, such a long time to establish who ultimately conceived, authorized, and defined Operation Fast and Furious. If Issa’s committee gets the documents it has requested, they’ll have some names in a matter of days, or possibly hours.
In fact, as Matthew Boyle of the Daily Caller writes, there is one particular “smoking gun” document that might answer a lot of congressional questions. It’s an internal email from Acting ATF Director Ken Melson that would “show senior DOJ officials knew about and approved the gunwalking tactic in Fast and Furions,” and “would also prove senior DOJ officials, likely including Holder himself, knew in March 2011 that a Feb. 4, 2011 letter from the DOJ to Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley falsely denied guns were permitted to ‘walk’ into Mexico.”
It took nine months for Eric Holder’s Justice Department to admit that letter was false and retract it. So let’s not hear any more bilge about “transparency” and “honesty.” This Justice Department and its Attorney General have proven they cannot be trusted. That’s why this investigation is so important. A great deal of un-redacted documentation needs to be placed on the table to clear, or indict, every senior Justice official. Hundreds of people are dead because of what they have done… and many more will surely die, both within the United States and beyond its borders, before the last of the Fast and Furious guns are recovered. The people who urge the public to forget about this horrific scandal are also asking them to forget about the weapons still at large. Some of those guns have been turning up in American cities.
Only when the first three levels of obfuscation had been penetrated did Barack Obama deploy Level Four, and assert executive privilege. This is obvious to anyone who has followed the story since its inception… which, outrageously, does not include most mainstream media reporters or their audiences.
Contrary to what the White House asserts, the only thing truly “absurd” about the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious would be assuming the stated purpose of the operation was its true intention. That’s why it’s foolish to call it a “botched sting operation.” We still don’t know exactly what the architects of the Obama Administration’s gunwalking program were trying to accomplish… but we do know, beyond all question, that they were not attempting to carry out a “sting operation,” as law enforcement understands that term.