Fast and Furious: An Open Letter To Columnist Colbert King

Dear Colbert King…

Dear Mr. King:

I am writing to see if you can help me understand your attitude toward the Fast and Furious scandal, as laid out in your recent weekly column in the Washington Post.

I can’t bring myself to make you an Ethics Dunce, because few journalists in any community have led such a relentless and powerful crusade against unethical government and corrupt public officials. Your columns have eloquently condemned the culture of corruption that has crippled the District of Columbia, and rallied the indignation and activism of citizens against the legacy of Marion Barry and the tolerance of public betrayal that he sowed and nurtured. You have cataloged, in shocking detail, the ethical rot that has infested the nation’s Capital, marked by lawlessness, cronyism, incompetence and greed. I respect you. I trust you. I think of you as the most credible and objective media advocate for good government that I know.

So I need to understand why you think it is fair and appropriate to call Rep. Issa a “devil” for insisting on transparency, honesty, accountability, and transparency from Attorney General Holder regarding the Fast and Furious fiasco, which left one American and untold Mexicans dead. It is the duty of Congress to exercise oversight over the U.S. government, and if there was ever an episode demanding oversight, this was it. The U.S. Department of Justice allowed the law to be broken, permitted dangerous automatic weapons to cross the border into Mexico and arm the most dangerous thugs in that country (without receiving the permission of Mexico or informing it), and then lost control of both the scheme and the weapons, with fatal results. You always write about maintaining the trust of the public in Washington, D. C. What is more fatal to trust than a law enforcement agency that intentionally allows laws to be broken without accountability? Don’t you believe that public trust in a nation’s Justice Department, its agents, policymakers and leadership is as important as public trust in the D.C. City Council? If you do, why is Issa, in your words, “engaging in cheap political opportunism” by insisting, along with others, such as the scrupulously fair Sen. Grassley, that Holder explain what happened, who was responsible, and what measures have been taken to make sure such an outrageous operation never happens again—beginning with, <gasp!>, firing somebody?

You are usually the most direct of writers, yet your column reeks of deceit. For example, in describing Fast and Furious, you say only that Fast and Furious was ” a venture of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.” Most people still believe that ATF is part of the Treasury Department, as it was for decades. I know I did, until Fast and Furious came to light. It’s under the Justice Department now, which means that Holder oversees its operations, and is ultimately responsible when things go horribly wrong. Why did you leave that key information out? I don’t understand. I am trying to think of a reason, other than the obvious one…that it would undercut your column’s indefensible position that House Republicans holding Holder accountable is “loopy.”

Again, you have written movingly about the ongoing damage caused by the “culture of corruption” in Washington, D.C.’s local government. Surely you know how such a culture takes hold and spreads: when high officials lie, cheat, cover up and get away with it. Yet you write,

“….the 23-member Republican majority of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform…like to do devilish things such as recommending that the attorney general be held in contempt of Congress simply because they have the power and lust to do so.”

You are a smart and fair man, so I can’t understand why you would write this. Holder is being held in contempt of Congress because he is in contempt of Congress. As your colleague Michael Gerson wrote today,

“In a February 2011 letter to Congress, the Justice Department denied any knowledge of “Operation Fast and Furious.” During May congressional testimony, Holder claimed that he had only recently learned of the matter. Both letter and testimony turned out to be false. Holder’s top aides had reviewed wiretapping applications containing specific details. Holder had received memos referencing the operation. Congress had been left under a false impression for nine months.

“The Justice Department’s response to this disclosure was to fight further disclosures — permitting investigation into the original program but not into the misstatements and corrections that followed. Holder has absurdly claimed credit for providing 7,600 pages (about 8 percent) of the material investigators have requested, as though the problem might not be found on Page 7,601.”

Exactly. This isn’t cooperative or transparent conduct, and it is inherently suspicious. It is the kind of evasive and combative conduct that liberal—or objective— journalists attacked during the beginnings of the Watergate investigation. Why should Issa, or Republicans, or the public, or you believe Holder, after such obfuscation?

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why you would side with a high official who has failed the test of trustworthiness,  the head of our justice system, no less. Holder’s department is charged with investigating ruinous leaks from the White House; he is challenging state laws as racist that claim only to be efforts to enforce the integrity of American citizenship and voting rights. It is essential that the public believe his motives are non-political, and that his honesty and competence is trustworthy and beyond reproach. Can you not see that the public must have assurances that such an official is not obstructing justice, hiding misconduct, and tolerating ineptitude for political reasons after a scandalous disaster like Fast and Furious?

I was stunned to see you adopt the cynical and hackneyed talking point of Holder’s defenders, that “This politically inspired dispute diverts attention from issues of real consequence.” The integrity of the Justice Department isn’t an issue of “real consequence” to you? The Congressional oversight function isn’t an issue of “real consequence”? The death of Americans and Mexicans as the result of reckless lawbreaking by U.S. law enforcement agencies isn’t isn’t an issue of “real consequence”? You have heard scoundrel after scoundrel in D.C., from Marion Barry when he was mayor to the current crop of felons on the City Council, make the same offensive claim again and again: “This focus on my personal life/my financial dealings/legal technicalities is just a distraction from the serious problems facing the people of D.C.”  You’ve mocked this tactic as the mark of corruption, which it is, and now you are using it yourself!  I just can’t understand it.

Please tell me that the reason isn’t so simpleminded and biased as the race of Eric Holder and President Obama, because your column sure makes it seem that way.  You begin by recounting how you and other members of your church had recently gathered..

“…to hear the morning’s prized speaker: the 82nd attorney general of the United States, and the first African American, Eric H. Holder Jr….What a sweep of history: from bondage to the top suite in America’s Justice Department, in the space of a few lifetimes. It was a time of celebration, a moment to reflect on how far the church, and the nation, had come since 1867. No more separate pews in corners of the church for “people of color.” No more whites first, colored second when Holy Communion is served. No more separate Sunday school classes for white and black children. No more Washington as a bastion of segregation.”

But then, you say, “up popped the devil.” The devil—as in a Republican Congressman doing his job, and being opposed by an obfuscating, deceptive, uncooperative Attorney General.

This makes no sense, Mr. King. You don’t use race as an excuse in D.C., or party affiliation either, though you are African American and a progressive Democrat. The crooks of the D.C. government are all black Democrats, and this has never tempered your fervor or dedication to rooting out corruption at all. Why are you suddenly becoming a race-baiter and defending the intolerable from Eric Holder?

I don’t understand.

 Respectfully,

Jack Marshall

___________________________________________

Sources:

Washington Post 1

Washington Post 2

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.

13 thoughts on “Fast and Furious: An Open Letter To Columnist Colbert King

  1. Whether the Obama administration transitions power to some new administration in 2013, or 2017, or sometime in between or after, that is going to be one nasty, filthy, terrible (and perhaps, terrifying) Justice Department for the next AG to command with any integrity and effectiveness.

      • Exactly. I’ve been trying to remember who the last competent, apolitical trustworthy AG was. Griffin Bell, Carter’s AG, was the last one I can recall. I would guess that cleaning up Justice is like cleaning the Augean stables.

        • So, what to do? (Aside to tgt: yes, more of the same is inevitable, unless like Jack infers, some ueber-skillful, “apolitical” [“lex rex”] AG takes charge, with all the back-up that AG will need.) Can Congress pass a law requiring Senate (or how about, for a change, House?) confirmation of DA appointments plus binding-resolution power of concurrence/non-concurrence with DA firings? Would that require a constitutional amendment? Are there perhaps states’-rights issues that need further attention and action – more constitutional amendments? I’ve heard the argument that the more the Constitution is amended, the weaker it becomes. I don’t buy that, because that’s the opposite of how the laws and regulations that flow from the Constitution have fared.

          • Great point. The problem with the AG’s office is that it is supposed to be apolitical but Presidents almost always appoint not only political allies but also cronies to the job. RFK, Mitchell, Meese, Reno, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, now Holder—none of these were especially qualified except by their loyalty to the President. I think we should let the Supreme Court appoint the AG.

            • I like that idea! (as long as powers of removal are separate, limited, and vested in another Branch like the Congress) I’m with you (I may be over-stating, beyond where you stand), in regarding the SCOTUS as the “most apolitical, least politicized” body of authority in the federal government. May it ever be thus (but I think it’s fair to fear that it won’t).

            • Oh Jesus, great idea. This is the Fox running the hen house, revolving Corporate leader to lobbyist to government official back to the Corporation which is the NORM in our reality today.

              The Same goes for the Supreme Court, which compared to courts of the past is what is fashionable to be called “Filled with Activist Judges” that is as radical as it is ever been.

              The AG is a hard position to fill. Our system rewards those most who act the most Machiavellian of characters, and who stomp on and sabotage those of high minded and character because they can, as opposed to those who have morals and ethics. Therefore, only those who are prepared to act in such a malicious manner, because that is what is rewarded in this modern political and media environment, elevate themselves into such positions.

              That is why you have the jackasses and morons running the show these days – both parties, mind you – who gladly let their purse strings be pulled by whatever monied interest will get them re-elected, so they can retire and get their cush lobbying jobs.

              Simply put, the system is broke beyond repair. Anything short of revamping the whole way we elect our officials equals Fascism – which is the direction we’re marching.

              • I’m not all that crazy about it either, BBA, but at least members of SCOTUS are not political (as opposed to being ideological).
                “Activist judges” is, as you used it, usually a euphemism for “they stopped my side from doing what we wanted to do, whether it was legal or not.) Activism is not striking down unconstitutional legislation, or declaring segregation unconstitutional, or declaring that Congress can’t ban books and movies that promote political ideas just because its election time (Citizens United.) Real activism is when judges make policy, like requiring busing, or authoring the Miranda Warning, or declaring abortion a right with no real authority. It is the Florida Supremes changing the state’s election rules mid-count, and dreaming up how the votes should be counted.

                This court, by one measure that I think is a fair one, rates as the LEAST “activist” in decades. So see? Things are getting better after all!

              • I’m not all that crazy about it either, BBA, but at least members of SCOTUS are not political (as opposed to being ideological).
                “Activist judges” is, as you used it, usually a euphemism for “they stopped my side from doing what we wanted to do, whether it was legal or not.) Activism is not striking down unconstitutional legislation, or declaring segregation unconstitutional, or declaring that Congress can’t ban books and movies that promote political ideas just because its election time (Citizens United.) Real activism is when judges make policy, like requiring busing, or authoring the Miranda Warning, or declaring abortion a right with no real authority. It is the Florida Supremes changing the state’s election rules mid-count, and dreaming up how the votes should be counted.

                This court, by one measure that I think is a fair one, rates as the LEAST “activist” in decades. So see? Things are getting better after all!

  2. I think, Jack, that he is guilty of the same malady that affects us all to a greater or lesser degree, despite our best intentions and efforts to tamp it down — cognitive dissonance.

    His faith in president Obama and AG Holder’s character are absolute. He believes — nay, KNOWS — that despite the evidence you referenced, that it is not in either man to do evil, let alone to do a greater evil and engage in a deliberate cover-up. He is as certain of president Obama and AG Holder’s character as he is that water is wet, and the sky is blue. Men of that kind of character simply don’t engage in this kind of base dissimulation.

    Given that, the only possible problem would have to lie with Boener and the Republicans on the House Oversight Committee. With every single Democrat on that committee opposing the Republican position, this helps him look past the evidence. Who are you gonna believe, good men, or not-so-good men and your lyin’ eyes?

    We have all been guilty of this, I suspect. I know I have. It’s no excuse, but cognitive dissonance may be the single most powerful opponent of genuine objectivity that exists. It’s easier to toss Occam’s Razor in the toilet than use it to carve up your closely-held beliefs.

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