Fast and Furious: AG Holder’s Ethics Train Wreck

Let’s get a few things settled.

If you look closely, you can see Eric Holder in his engineer cap.

Fast and Furious is a true scandal, not a trumped-up distraction, just as Watergate wasn’t a “third-rate burglary.” When the U.S. government intentionally allows laws to be broken, secretly seeds violent crime in a neighboring country and gets both foreigners and Americans killed as a result, that’s a scandal any way you cut it. The U.S. Congress has an oversight role to play after such a fiasco, and getting to the bottom of what went sour is its duty, regardless of how much enjoyment partisan Congressmen appear to have making Administration officials sweat. Any politician or member of the media who suggests otherwise is trying to manufacture a cover-up and intentionally misleading the public. The mantra that “this is a waste of time when Congress should be doing the nation’s business” was used by Republicans during Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the Valerie Plame affair, and by Democrats during Whitewater, Lewinsky, and now, as Fast and Furious is finally bursting out of the hole of obscurity where the biased media tried to stuff it. A badly managed, law-breaking Justice Department isn’t trivial, and when utterly stupid, reckless operations like Fast and Furious come to light, it is essential that there be full disclosure and accountability. The voices trying to bury this scandal do not have the best interests of the United States or the public at heart. Let’s start with that.

Fast and Furious was so jaw-droppingly dumb that its very stupidity is almost a boon to defenders of Attorney General Holder’s department, since the normal reaction to such facts is that some crazy Republican must have made up the whole thing. Unfortunately, this really happened.  In 2009, the US government allowed Arizona gun sellers to illegally sell automatic weapons to suspected criminals. Then ATF agents (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives)  were directed to  allow the guns to “walk” across the border and be delivered to the Mexican drug cartels. The House Oversight Committee’s report explains, “The purpose was to wait and watch, in hope that law enforcement could identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case…. [The ATF] initially began using the new gun-walking tactics in one of its investigations to further the Department’s strategy.”

Gee. What a great plan! What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, only everything.

1,608 weapons ended up in the bloody hands of Mexican criminals. The ATF lost track of them, until they turned up at shootings and crime scenes. Many Mexicans, though we don’t know how many, died from being shot by the planted guns, and when a US federal agent, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, was killed by one of them in battle with drug-runners, the fiasco became public. (ATF whistle-blower also helped.) In a sensible, fair, ethical system, the next steps would follow like Summer follows Spring:

  • The news media would give the story major coverage  and do its own, unbiased, competent investigation.
  • The Administration would express horror and regret, and set about its own internal investigation.
  • Both parties of Congress would aggressively seek answers, and make certain that systemic failures were exposed and responsible individuals were identified.
  • Those responsible would resign or would be fired.

But we do not have a sensible, fair, ethical system, at least as it is currently functioning. As a result, the Fact and Furious mess has become an ethics train wreck that appears to be gathering steam. The evidence so far:

  • The lack of a bi-partisan Congressional inquiry. The absurd accusation heard in the wake of the Oversight Committee’s vote to hold Eric Holder in contempt of Congress was that it was a partisan action because it was a straight party vote. Well, shame on the Democrats for making it so. They don’t think it’s a problem for the Justice Department to be stonewalling about something this serious? They don’t think an Attorney General answering questions dishonestly is contemptible? Their refusal to make it a bi-partisan inquiry is a cynical strategy to permit the Obama Administration to marginalize legitimate oversight of an indefensible instance of misconduct and recklessness by the U.S. government.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder’s conduct in the Fast and Furious hearings. He has, at least twice, given false information to the Committee,under oath, and then “retracted” it, denying that it was a lie, only after documentation came to light proving what he said was false. Holder said in October of 2011 that he was unaware of the operation until “over the last few weeks,” and emails surfaced showing that, to the contrary, he had been briefed consistently beginning ten months earlier. After initially making the pathetic excuse that he doesn’t read his e-mails (Translation: “I’m incompetent.”), Holder settled on “retracting” his earlier falsehood. This week, Holder retracted another statement he made under oath, that Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey had known about (and thus approved) the idiotic tactics used in Fast and Furious. That was untrue, and documentation proved it.

Holder is a lawyer, the #1 lawyer, in fact, in America. He also understands what a hearing is. He is representing the Obama Administration. He knows you prepare for hearings. He knows, in  such a hearing that he is going to be asked who approved the operation under scrutiny, and what he knew, and when. He knows he will be under oath, and can’t just represent anything as a fact without knowing that it is a fact. He also knows that you can’t “take back” perjury. The crime occurs when you knowingly make a false statement under oath. He knew he had to have his facts straight going in to the hearing. So why did he make two material assertions to Congress contradicted by the evidence, both designed to absolve himself and his department of responsibility? One possibility is that he is an incompetent dolt, and frankly, based on Holder’s record, I think that is a real possibility. Congress, however, has every right and reason to assume otherwise, and conclude if Holder isn’t a dolt, and only a dolt of an Attorney General would assert fable and rumor as fact under oath without the intent to deceive, then he is trying to cover up something.

  • The mainstream media efforts to bury this story with the objective of, presumably, protecting Obama in an election year. I no longer have adjectives to describe how partisan, corrupt and irresponsible the news media is today, and every time I think it cannot sink lower, it does. The anointing of Barack Obama and the persecution of Sarah Palin in 2008 (the liberal Democrat Presidential nominee was America’s savior, the conservative female Vice Presidential nominee was inexperienced and unqualified, though the  liberal Presidential nominee was more inexperienced than the conservative Vice Presidential nominee)  was a new low in biased and irresponsible reporting, but the effort to convict George Zimmerman was lower, and this is lower still. If one Googles Eric Holder’s most recent retraction of a statement made under oath to Congress, the media stories listed are Fox, the Examiner, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart, and conservative blogs. How can this be justified? We just watched a high profile, extensively covered trial of a baseball pitcher who was accused of lying before Congress on a matter with no impact on most Americans at all, and yet the Attorney General trying to extract himself from a lie, also before Congress, also under oath, involving the U.S. Department of Justice allowing gun laws to be broken and getting people killed as a result is not regarded as newsworthy by the liberal media! Naturally the conservative media is all over the story, because they make no pretense about their partisanship, and every American should be thankful for it. Whatever their motives, at least the bias is driving these organizations to report the news, not hide it. NBC Nightly News mentioned Fast and Furious, briefly, for the first time last week. NBC’s Today Show, last I checked, has never mentioned it in its news coverage. Only CBS, among major broadcast news organizations, has treated the scandal as a major story from the start.
  • President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege to help Holder withhold documents subpoenaed by Congress. This was the tipping point that sent Fast and Furious into Ethics Train Wreck territory. Remember that an ETW begins pulling everyone who approaches it under the wheels. I know Obama has had to abandon so many high-minded campaign promises that one more doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this was a good and important one: he promised unprecedented transparency. Speaking to CNN host Larry King, in 2007, Sen. Obama criticized the Bush administration’s tendency to “hide behind executive privilege every time there’s something a little shaky that’s taking place,” and advocated that Administration’s “coming clean,” saying “the American people deserve to know what was going on there.” Can those comments be reconciled with his assertion of executive privilege now? No. Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the assertion of privilege was just about “principle”  (provoking laughs from the press corps.) If that’s true, it is a principle that the President once opposed: keeping the facts from the public to protect the White House.
  • Talk radio conspiracy-mongering. Do you know how Rush Limbaugh explained Fast and Furious? I’m not making this up. He said this week that President Obama and Holder want to pass sweeping anti-gun laws, and concocted Fast and Furious so there would be scores of deaths of innocent citizens of Mexico with  automatic weapons purchased in America. Then the Democrats would use the deaths and resulting outrage to push for an automatic weapons ban. “They never expected this to get traced back to them!” Rush said. He didn’t posit this crazy, murderous, impeachable scenario as a theory; he stated it as fact. And millions of people believe Limbaugh. This is irresponsible and dishonest bordering on evil, but it is also the kind of thing that happens when the facts aren’t released, leaders stonewall and professional journalists don’t do their job. Distrust and paranoia reign.

_____________________________________

Sources:

Graphic: Biz Clarity

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

8 thoughts on “Fast and Furious: AG Holder’s Ethics Train Wreck

  1. You missed a couple things: Early on, the inquiry did get to most of the info on Fast & Furious. Since then, it mostly has been a partisan attack. The Democrats should have been involved more at the beginning (Ethics fault), but the current goals of Issa have nothing to do with truth or justice. He’s turned a laudible inquiry (where the Republicans were in the right and the Democrats were in the wrong) into pure political grandstanding. Just look at the contempt charge. It has nothing to with what happened during Fast & Furious. Instead, it’s based on documents from years after Fast & Furious was ended. If this was an actual court, Issa would have been shut down by the judge for demanding these documents. The contempt hearing isn’t partisan because it went down on party lines; instead, it went down on party lines because it is partisan.

    There are a handful silly statements in your post like that one and like claiming that Palin was persecuted in the mainstream media, when it was really quite the opposite, but the actual substantive information, logic, and conclusions seems pretty on target.

    • Yes, Issa was the wrong person to hold the hearings, not because he isn’t smart or a good investigator, but because he is, as you say, a relentless partisan. I disagree that he is wrong to seek the documents he’s seeking (obviously he’s looking for evidence of a cover-up and White House involvement), and I think Holder HAS been in contempt of Congress, and hasn’t been candid or cooperative.

      I sure don’t want to get back on Palin, but that statement was 100% accurate. I followed few campaigns like that one: Biden is a mouth-breathing boob who says ridiculous things every day, then and now, yet Palin was the only one being dogged for every gaffe. And the “she’s not qualified” trope about a mayor and governor from the very same journalists lionizing the potential of a short-timer in the Senate who never held an executive position in his life…it still drives me crazy. And I did think it was the low point of professionalism for US journalism.

      Today it looks like a level to aspire to…

  2. I was hoping you would post on this. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the President decided to use his privilege to protect Holder.

    I do not understand how there is so little thought given to all the lost life brought to Mexico and America by one bad decision. And now it is trying to be pushed under the rug like nothing happened. What’s next? Are we going to sell nuclear weapons to Iran?

  3. Jack,
    There is evidence that part of the motivation for allowing guns to walk to Mexico was to give some legitimacy to putting into place some new and controversial regulations regarding sales of multiple long guns in the US. The documentation for this was uncovered by CBS (CBS!!!!) pretty early on in this story.

    You probably recall all of the publicity around the Mexican gun tracing back in 2009 where a very high percentage of the guns submitted for tracking were found to have originated in the US. This was misleading in itself, as those guns that were obviously from a different source were not submitted for tracking at all. This left the impression that the US had a porous border when it came to gun trafficking to the South.

    You may not recall some comments that were leaked from a private meeting between President Obama and the leaders of some gun control activist organizations in which he stated that he had to work under the radar to get gun control enacted due to the current political environment surrounding gun control. I think that it is possible, not certain, but possible, that he was talking about projects like Fast and Furious when he was speaking to these organizations.

    I don’t want to come across as some wild eyed conspiracy theorist, but there do appear to be some canaries dying in the mineshaft here. We have the attacks on the First Amendment (Citizens United; birth control and the Catholic Church etc.) and then we have what looks like a coordinated attack on the Second Amendment with F&F and others. I forget the amendment (Fourth?) but all of the no-knock warrant executions that take place are very disturbing.

    I am sure that someone who is better informed about these types of intrusions would be able to make a more compelling case, but taken all together, it does cause me to worry about liberty here in the US over the long term.

  4. Dear Jack,

    Excellent blog post! Thanks for helping call attention in a non-partisan way to this very important scandal.

    Sincerely,

    A Critic

  5. Pingback: Signs of the Times | The Blog of Salvo Magazine

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