On June 27, 2012, the day before the House vote on Contempt of Congress charges against Attorney General Eric Holder, Fortune Magazine published an article by Katherine Eban entitled The Truth about the Fast and Furious scandal. In her article, written after a 6 month investigation into Fast and Furious, she states:
"Irony abounds when it comes to the Fast and Furious scandal. But the ultimate irony is this: Republicans who support the National Rifle Association and its attempts to weaken gun laws are lambasting ATF agents for not seizing enough weapons – ones that, in this case, prosecutors deemed to be legal."
How did we get to this convoluted place?
To answer this question, you have to look at the cast of characters running the Fast and Furious scandal show.
I. The NRA
Fact #1 The NRA has been advocating for the firing of Eric Holder since the fall of 2010 when the NRA actually ran TV ads asking that people contact President Obama demanding that he fire Holder.
Fact #2 The NRA has been instrumental in blocking gun laws throughout America and has been so successful in Arizona that the Brady Center has rewarded Arizona a score of 0 on a 100-point scale.
Fact #3 The NRA has spent decades weakening the ATF through lobbying actions at the federal level so that:
- The ATF budget is kept low, while the regulations surrounding how the ATF functions are high
- The ATF, through the Tiarht Amendment, has been severely hampered in what information they can collect about gun sales, and with whom they can share the information they do collect.
The NRA won two victories with the Contempt of Congress against Holder. They got Holder, but also were able to humiliate the ATF in the process. This double victory was so important to the NRA, that in an unprecedented move, the NRA scored both the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Contempt vote and the House of Representatives Contempt vote.
II. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA-49)
Fact #4 In Fast and Furious, Oversight Committee Chair, Darrell Issa finally got a ‘scandal’ to tie around the neck of the Obama administration. When Republicans became the majority party in the House after the 2010 election, Rep Darrell Issa became the Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He relished this new role. He called the Obama administration the most corrupt administration in American history. He promised that under his leadership, "I want seven hearings a week, 40 weeks a year." To ensure that the administration was under the microscope, he added new sub-committees, chaired by like-minded GOP representatives, tasking each subcommittee with holding 2 – 3 hearings a week.
Fact #5 After an 18-month congressional investigation into the ATF program called Fast and Furious, 9 appearances before congress, and releasing thousands of documents, Eric Holder was deemed a liar and uncooperative by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Fact #6 Darrell Issa shut down Democrats demand that the Bush Administration equivalent to Fast and Furious also be investigated. "Project Gunrunner" was begun in 2006 and it is this program that was dubbed Fast and Furious in 2009.
Fact #7 Darrell Issa shut down any questioning or testimony regarding the lax gun laws in Arizona and difficulty in prosecuting these cases – ‘we’re not here to talk about gun control.’
Fact #8 On June 20, 2012 Darrell Issa’s committee voted to charge Holder with Contempt. This vote passed along a party line vote. On Thursday, June 28, 2012 Attorney General Eric Holder was held in Contempt Of Congress. The time lapse between the committee vote and the House vote was one week. (Contrast this with 2 other Committee Citations of Contempt. Attorney General Janet Reno, cited by committee on 8/6/1998 – the vote never taken by 105th Congress. White House political advisor Karl Rove cited by committee on 7/30/2008 – in 3/2009, the committee reached agreement with the former White House.) One week between the committee citation and the full House vote – why the rush?
Fact #9 During the week between the committee vote and the House vote, The Attorney General made attempts to negotiate a solution, but his efforts were turned down.
At the floor debate on June 28th , Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said, "Any doubt that today’s contempt is political was put to rest when the NRA joined in to blowtorch vulnerable Democrats to vote for contempt today. The gun lobby is directly responsible for the gap in Federal law that allowed the straw purchases of guns here that were taken to Mexico, ultimately resulting in the death of a border agent."
III. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Fact #10 Though Senator Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judicial Committee also investigating Fast and Furious, has attempted to paint his participation as non-partisan, he has led the Republican charge against Holder in the Senate echoing charges of Holder non-cooperation with the investigation.
Fact #11 The Senate hearings made clear that Republicans have many complaints against Holder. McCain demanded a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate the intelligence leaks. Cornyn lambasted Holder for fighting voter ID laws.
The NRA, Issa, and Grassley have all declared their belief that the Obama administration deliberately let massive amounts of guns ‘walk’ into Mexico to create the resulting mayhem, chaos, and deaths, in order to strengthen gun laws in the United States.
This conspiracy theory drove the Contempt of Congress orchestrated by the NRA, Issa, and Grassley.
And, this brings me back to what I think is the fundamental question.
Did the ATF "order" agents to let guns walk into Mexico? This is the testimony of the whistleblowers and the argument from the NRA, Issa, and Grassley, as well as Sharyl Attkisson of CBS. (This argument supports the conspiracy theory cited above.)
Were guns sold in the border states ‘walking’ into Mexico and the ATF was stymied, ineffective in stemming the flow? This is Holder’s position. (This argument contradicts the conspiracy theory.)
Attorney General Holder was found in Contempt of Congress because Issa and Grassley wanted Holder to admit to the ATF allowing/ordering gun walking into Mexico. However, Holder consistently maintained that the ATF was trying to stem the flow of guns that were walking into Mexico, albeit ineffectively
Our relationship with Mexico has been severely damaged not just by the number of guns that have ‘walked’ into Mexico and the horrendous 30,000+ murders of Mexican people, but especially by the notion that the ATF ordered these guns to ‘walk’.
I am not defending the ATF.
While recognizing the prosecutorial difficulties and low resources at the ATF, the Justice Department Inspector General’s November, 2010 report documents a disorganized agency. An agency where one group within the agency doesn’t work together or communicate with other groups in the ATF, much less with their partner agencies within the federal, state, and local governments. An agency with frustrated employees because of these issues.
The 2010 ATF "Project Gunrunner – A Cartel Focused Strategy", outlines an enhancement to the Gunrunner Project to work with other agencies and Mexico to tie Mexican Cartels to the guns walked over the border into Mexico for arrest and prosecution.
But nowhere, is there any indication that the mission of the Gunrunner Project – Fast and Furious – was to let/allow/order guns walk to Mexico.
The congressional ‘investigation’ just like Attkisson’s ‘investigation’ did nothing to forward solutions to the real issues at the ATF.
Rest assured the world has not tilted on its axis. If any legislation is proposed to strengthen Federal or State gun laws, the NRA, Republicans, and some Democrats who rely on NRA endorsements will all lock arms to prevent passage. Any attempt, likewise, to strengthen the ATF to better enable the ATF to do its’ job, will also be blocked.
Someone, please, explain to me how this "investigation" helped stem the flow of guns into Mexico to prevent further deaths of U.S. Border Patrol Agents, U.S. I.C.E. Agents and massive numbers of Mexicans.