To paraphrase the old Christmas chestnut, it’s beginning to look a lot like Nixon, at least if you watch Fox News, read the conservative press or pay attention to Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The furor is over Barack Obama’s decision to declare Executive Privilege and not release documents requested in a congressional probe of the botched drug war operation Fast and Furious. Because the botched operation touches upon one of conservative’s hottest of hot buttons, gun control, speculation has spun out of control and we now seem to have a Watergate in the making, except instead of a failed two-bit break-in we’ve got a lot of dead bodies including one US border patrol agent name Brian Terry.
As with so many Washington “scandals” it is hard to separate fact from fiction. I’ve watched a good number of talking heads and read columns including The National Journal’s Major Garrett and The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson. These are the facts I can piece together:
- Dating back as far as 2005, we have run operations out of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) under the Justice Department, to track illegal gun sales and attempt to trace them back to the big players at the receiving end, typically drug cartel warlords in Mexico. The approach is to allow the gun sale and then see where the guns go.
- The first such attempt was called Operation Gun Runner.
- The second attempt was called Operation Wide Receiver. These first two operations were conducted during the Bush administration. The inventory of guns allowed to slip through the cracks was limited, carefully tracked, and coordinated with the Mexican government.
- The third attempt initiated under the Obama administration was called Fast and Furious. What made this attempt stand out was the lack of control over the inventory and the higher volume of inventory allowed to be illegally sold. Damning the program to utter failure were the fatalities traced back to F&F weapons.
- Depending on which source you read, border patrol officer Brian Terry was killed by one of the guns in F&F. Alternative reports indicate that no F&F weapon was definitively tied to Terry’s death by any ballistic test.
The operation was shut down by the Justice Department, and folks were fired or reprimanded. Despite that, the botched operation attracted the attention of a congressional oversight committee led by California Representative Darrell Issa (R) and a year’s worth of investigation has resulted in the recommendation of a contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder.
While Holder’s department did what it was supposed to do in shutting the program down and punishing those negligent, Holder made life difficult for himself by telling the oversight committee that he had no knowledge of F&F when documents later surfaced that contradicted that assertion. So are conservatives simply in an uproar over an Attorney General who might have lied to save face? No, it runs deeper than that. Deep enough that we get into very paranoid territory. On her MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow spells out the origin of the F&F controversy and one of the main players who sparked concern about the operation, a crackpot named Michael Vanderboegh who in 2010 advocated vandalizing Democratic headquarters across the nation to protest “Obamacare”.
So the story goes that the Obama administration deliberately fed an out of control gun sale in the hopes that enough folks would get killed to turn American opinion in favor of greater gun control. As shown in the Maddow piece, the attitude of conservatives toward the Obama administration vis-a-vis gun control is outright irrational. In a “woman on the street” interview, an Alaskan woman tells Maddow “I don’t have all the facts but I know that [Holder is] anti-gun.” Of course this flies in the face of the fact that the gun control advocacy group The Brady Campaign gave Obama an “F” on gun control. But don’t let his poor record fool you. Wayne LaPierre declares that Obama has done nothing on gun control in order to lull the American people into a comfort zone so that he can steal their guns in his second term. Sadly, a number of otherwise intelligent Americans are buying this paranoid nonsense wholesale.
If we come back to reality for a moment, the current American statistics are sober enough that no intentional out of control gun running scheme is necessary to convince America of the need for gun control. According to Demos Fellow Bob Herbert (in a subsequent interview by Maddow) three people will die from gun violence in the next hour. That comes to about 30,000 gun fatalities a year. Folks who misread the second amendment do not care about these statistics and no increase in dead Mexicans or a dead US border patrol agent will change their mind. Instead it’s easier to simply say Obama and Holder killed Brian Terry so we all can willingly give up our second amendment rights. Absurd.
So where does this leave us with the Executive Privilege claim by Obama? Even Darrell Issa said today that he has no proof of a concerted effort by the White House to mislead Congress on Fast and Furious. Yet Executive Privilege claims smell fishy more often than not. My guess is that Obama did this as a power play to spit in the face of what he views as an overzealous prosecution by Congress. My personal recommendation, as if Obama listens to me, would be to withdraw the Executive Privilege claim and supply all requested documents. That way you don’t look like you have something to hide and you don’t feed the loonies and their conspiracy theories.
Photo mashup originally appeared on The Drudge Report.