It is looking increasingly likely that Attorney General Holder lied to Congress on May 2, 2011, when he was asked by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa about when he knew about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Fast and Furious gun-running fiasco. In this he is following a grand tradition among U.S. Attorney Generals: the last one, Bush crony Alberto Gonzalez, almost certainly lied under oath to Congress too.
Fast and Furious was a botched gunrunning enforcement operation in which illegal guns that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives intentionally allowed to be smuggled into Mexico ended up being used to kill an Immigration Customs Enforcement agent and a U.S. border patrol guard. Holder was called before Issa’s committee in a typical “what did the top guy know and when did he know it?” inquiry. In response to the latter part of that question, Holder told the Committee that he was “not sure of the exact date, but I probably learned about Fast and Furious over the last few weeks.”
CBS and Fox News have uncovered a series of e-mails and memos that show unequivocally that this was not true. Holder learned of the operation as early as July 2010 from a memo authored by the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center informing him of an operation run by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force out of the Phoenix ATF office, under which “straw purchasers are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug cartels.” Then, on Oct. 18, 2010, one of Holder’s chief deputies, Lanny Breuer, chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, wrote Holder that prosecutors were ready to issue indictments of a few gun traffickers involved in Fast and Furious.
I understand that the Obama Administration doesn’t need another scandal on the heels of Solyndra, but the fair, smart and right way to handle Holder’s foolish effort at stonewalling is to allow the AG to “resign,” and quickly. Instead, White House spokesman Jay Carney was at his indignant and incredible worst delivering the excuse that Holder misunderstood the question. Carney said that Holder’s sworn response referred to when he became aware of the controversial tactics employed by Operation Fast and Furious, and not when he first learned that the operation itself existed.
Uh- huh. In a word: lame. Again, what Holder said was this: “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” He did not say, “I probably heard about the botched aspects of the Fast and Furious operation for the first time over the last few weeks.”
Eric Holder knows the importance of precision in testimony; he is an experienced lawyer and a prosecutor. He also knows the importance of choosing words carefully when testifying under oath, and how it is vital to be candid and straightforward when testifying before Congress, which is the same as testifying to the American public. If Carney is correct, then Holder is too inept and incompetent to be Attorney General.
Come to think of it, this isn’t out of the question, given Holder’s general performance. The White House’s other excuse for Holder’s dissembling under oath is that he doesn’t read his e-mails. When the defense of a high administration official comes down to 1)”He didn’t mean it.” 2) “He didn’t know what was going on in his own department,” and 3) “We love him anyway” (Carney: “The president believes he’s an excellent attorney general and has great confidence in him.”), we are squarely in denial and desperation territory. Also in George Bush territory, who refused to get rid of Attorney General Gonzalez even after most Republicans concluded that he was an incompetent hack who had lied to Congress about whether the Department of Justice had applied political considerations in appointing U.S. attorneys.
With trust in the Obama Administration and the President himself in the red zone, this is no time for a cover-up and stonewalling, not that there is ever a time when the White House should be excusing lies by department heads.. Holder’s dishonesty is a golden opportunity, in fact, to show that Obama really is willing to fire appointees who don’t do the job and to rid himself of a liability.
If Holder does not resign, he should be indicted for perjury. To begin with, it would be wonderful to dispense with the “We never indict Attorney Generals for perjury because they tend to be pals of the President” tradition. If the Democrats insist on indicting Gonzalez too, fine: it seems a bit cruel, since he is probably working for a small town public defenders office somewhere, but he certainly earned it.
Otherwise, there will be a blindingly glowing double standard on display when pitching great Roger Clemens finally begins his perjury trial for lying to Congress about whether or not he used steroids. I have defended that prosecution as important exercise to emphasize the seriousness of lying to Congress. Lying to Congress about a federal operation that has resulted in the deaths of two Americans (so far), however, is infinitely worse than what the Rocket did, and the top lawyer in the government deceiving Congress must never be tolerated.