On Tuesday, Rep. Louie Gohmert had a heated discussion with Attorney General Eric “Stonewall” Holder about the latter’s astonishing refusal to hand over documents pertaining to a variety of scandals, notably including the Obama Administration’s deadly gunrunning program, Operation Fast and Furious. There is no way to defend what Holder has done – he’s a political operative sitting on a mountain of documents that our representatives in Congress have every right to see – so Holder didn’t even try. He just got very, very angry that Congress keeps badgering him about it.
When Gohmert brought up the historic contempt citation voted against him by the House in 2012, Holder went ballistic.
“I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our Attorney General,” Gohmert prodded, “but it is important that we have proper oversight.”
“You don’t want to go there, buddy!” Holder snarled in response. “You don’t want to go there, OK? You should not assume that uh that is not a big deal to me. I think it was inappropriate, I think it was unjust, but never think that it was not a big deal to me. Don???t ever think that.”
Gohmert, of course, is entirely and objectively correct. The contempt of Congress citation is a “big deal” to Attorney General Holder only insofar as it offends his vanity. As this outburst demonstrates, he regards it as an insult, but the point of such a citation is not to hurt the subject’s feelings; it is meant to influence behavior. And on that score, Holder’s contempt citation has not mattered at all. He’s still doing what he was put in the Justice Department to do: conceal documents, refuse to investigate Obama Administration scandals, and provide political fodder for the Democrats’ agenda. The darker suspicions about Operation Fast and Furious resolve the seemingly inexplicable facts of the case – i.e. who the hell ever thought running guns to Mexican drug lords was a good idea? – by proposing it was similar in spirit to Holder’s public fulminations against sensible voter ID laws: a Justice Department effort to support a left-wing agenda item.
Congress has inconvenienced Holder a few times by obliging him to plod into a hearing chamber and testify that he doesn’t read his own mail and has no idea what the Justice Department is up to, but other than that, they haven’t affected his behavior in the slightest. Everyone knows there was no endgame beyond that contempt citation; the rest of Obama Justice is not going to prosecute Holder for anything, any more than Holder is going to prosecute anyone over the IRS scandal. We’re about to go through another ultimately meaningless contempt-of-Congress drama against IRS scandal superstar Lois Lerner – there’s a very good chance the vote will pass, and I assume she’ll get some sort of nastygram in the mail formally citing her for skulduggery, but that will be the end of it.
The people behind this political abuse of the IRS – one of the worst crimes ever perpetrated against the American people – always knew that would be the end of it. They had the whole thing gamed out before Lerner triggered the scandal with a planted question at a press conference. She knew she and her associates just had to get out in front of the story, give President Obama a chance to do a bit of empty posturing – remember when he claimed he was outraged by the abuse of IRS power, and swore he’d get to the bottom of it – and then sit tight, while House Democrats worked to turn hearings into a long, drawn-out farce. As long as everyone kept their lips zipped, the fallout was never going to be anything more than early retirement and a fiery letter from Congress for somebody – only one somebody, as it turns out.
Actually, a glance at the recent House Oversight report on the IRS scandal makes it clear that a surprisingly large number of Internal Revenue Service officials did not keep their lips zipped, but it doesn’t matter, because the Obama Administration’s strategy hinged on disabling the one effective force for government oversight: the media. The media wasn’t interested in the bundles of sensational testimony packed into that House report. There’s more than enough bombshell testimony to warrant a Justice investigation, but there won’t be one, because there hasn’t been a media investigation.
One of the disturbing lessons to be taken from the Obama years is that almost all limits on executive power are now enforced solely by the media. The legal restrictions have been revealed as elaborate bluffs, which can be knocked down by an Administration determined to call them. The Constitutional separation of powers has atrophied into a gentleman’s agreement, which Obama freely disregards, while hurling an endless stream of vile slander at the astonished Republican caucus in Congress. He dares them to do something about it, and since the only thing they can really do is impeach him, he wins. The only balancing force left in the rotted husk of what was once a great Constitutional republic are those media referees, and they seem pretty cool with this President abusing executive power to rewrite laws on the fly, refusing to perform his lawful duties, and concealing reams of damaging documentation. They even keep stone faces when he boasts about how “transparent” his Administration is.
Pulitzer Prizes will be left lying on the table, because no one in the mainstream press wants to write the story that brings this corrupt government down, or at least turns a critical mass of Americans decisively against our intrusive, abusive tax system. Just about everyone from the IRS who has talked to Congress made it clear that conservative groups were indeed targeted for partisan political reasons, but the goalposts for coverage were slowly moved to “Lois Lerner or bust,” and it looks like bust. The press yawns, checks its calendar, and thinks about maybe dashing off a quick epitaph for page A23 on the next anniversary of the scandal. It takes very little imagination to suppose this would all have gone differently if the IRS had harassed civil-rights groups and pro-choice organizations during President John McCain’s 2012 re-election bid. There would have been outrage boiling through city streets. There would have been no other media story until heads rolled. And a panicked Republican administration would probably have started working the guillotines immediately, producing a stream of angry scapegoats who promptly received front-page press treatment as heroic whistleblowers.
Likewise, Operation Fast and Furious would have been treated very differently under a Republican president, given its scope and body count. The family of slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry would be media superstars, and everyone in America would know their opinion of the Attorney General who refused to hand over vital documents to congressional investigators. Against such a backdrop, even the plausible threat of a contempt of Congress citation would count for something. If it actually happened to a Republican AG, I doubt you would read many subsequent media reports that failed to mention it, somewhere in the first three paragraphs, even if it was just a report about him showing up to cut the ribbon at a new halfway house.
Instead, Holder gets to ignore that contempt citation until a congressional Republican has the nerve to bring it up, at which point he can throw a dramatic little fit, for which he’ll earn applause from every left-wing outlet. He knows he’s more likely to be written into history by its left-wing chroniclers as a heroic figure than a scoundrel; contempt of Congress will be mentioned as a footnote, if at all. Like every big figure in this Administration, he knows a comfortable life awaits him after his term in office. Secure in that knowledge, he can get back to attacking successful school choice programs, musing about shackling law-abiding gun owners with expensive smart-gun bracelets that don’t exist yet, working up his next tirade against ballot box security, supervising the federal civil-rights investigation of George Zimmerman (how’s that coming along, by the way?) and all the other stuff Americans expect their Attorney General to spend his time on.
Update: Not to be outdone, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) mused that people who ignore congressional subpoenas, as Attorney General Holder did, usually end up in jail.
Update: The House Ways and Means Committee voted on Wednesday to send a criminal referral to Attorney General Holder, citing Lois Lerner potentially violating “multiple criminal statutes,” including disclosure of confidential taxpayer information and impeding the Treasury Inspector General’s investigation. Holder will doubtless give this referral the same intense scrutiny he showed all the Operation Fast and Furious documents sitting in his cobwebbed in-box.
A House Oversight vote for holding Lerner in contempt of Congress is still forthcoming later this week. She’ll likely take such a citation as serious as Eric Holder took his.