J. D. Heyes
October 7, 2011
In 2008, Sen. Barack Obama was vying for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and the soon-to-be chief executive made a pledge that, if elected, he would preside over the most open, transparent administration in history. He promised to support an outright ban on gifts, to ensure that people working for his administration were prohibited from lobbying the same administration. He also vowed to have more open meetings and a five-day public review for legislation.
While the president did indeed make good on some of those promises, mostly via executive order, the tenor of his pledges signaled clearly that he was deeply supportive of transparency and openness within his administration, two key elements he said had long been missing in Washington.
Well, that was then. Today, the president’s Justice Department is embroiled in aburgeoning scandalinvolving federally sponsored gun-running to Mexican drug cartels linked to the death of at least one federal agent, and the only thing we’re hearing out of the Obama White House isscreeching indifference.
When reports about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “Operation Fast and Furious”initially surfaced, Americans learned that an agency within their own government was attempting to cover up details about a covert program to provide Mexican drug cartels, through straw purchases, with thousands of automatic weapons, in a bid to trace those weapons back to top cartel figures. Only, from the outset BATFE agents were never really able to track those guns very well – that is, until those guns started showing up at crime scenes, one of which involved the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in 2010.
Initially, heads rolled within the BATFE and Justice Department. ATF chief Kenneth Melton stepped down, as did Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney in Phoenix who oversaw prosecutions in that state related to Fast and Furious.
Also initially, Justice’s top official, Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr.,denied he had any prior knowledgeof Fast and Furious, telling reporters in early September, “The notion that somehow or other this thing reaches into the upper levels of the Justice Department is something that. … I don’t think is supported by the facts.”
Then, in a political jab at lawmakers who have been trying for weeks to piece together details about the operation from uncooperative administration officials, including him, said this: “It’s kind of something I think certain members of Congress would like to see, the notion that somehow or other high-level people in the department were involved. As I said, I don’t think that is going to be shown to be the case.”
Now come reports that a series of emails indicate top Justice Department officials – up to and including Holder – knew at least some of the details about the BATFE program. From the Los Angeles Times:
In the emails that the department turned over to congressional investigators, Justice Department officials last October discussed both the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking surveillance operation in Phoenix and a separate investigation from 2006 and 2007 called Operation Wide Receiver. In Wide Receiver, which took place in Tucson, firearms also were acquired by illegal straw purchasers and lost in Mexico…
In addition to top Justice officials, some lawmakers are questioning whether or not Holder hedged what and when he knew about the operation. On March 10, Holder testified before a Senate subcommittee that he had just learned about the gun-walking operation and that he had asked for an inspector general investigation.
On May 3, Holder was asked by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, when he first learned about Fast and Furious. “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,” Holder said – leading Justice Department officials crank up the spin machine.
“The Attorney General’s testimony to both the House and the Senate was consistent and truthful,” said a statement from the department. “He said in both March and May of this year that he became aware of the questionable tactics employed in the Fast and Furious Operation in early 2011 when ATF agents first raised them publicly, and at the time, he asked the Inspector General’s office to investigate the matter.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Holder knew even months earlier, in late January, when Grassley gave Holder a letter detailing the investigation of Fast and Furious.
“If he read my letter, he knew on January 31,” Grassley told Fox News.
The spinning, dodging and hedging has, understandably, led to even more questions, as well asa call by some lawmakers for a special counselto get to the bottom of all of this.
Not quite what you would have expected from a president who once promised transparency and an end to “business as usual” in the nation’s capitol.
This article was posted: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 2:00 am