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Tags: Fast and Furious

‘The Loop’ Never Extends All the Way to the Oval Office



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The “worst tornado in the history of the world” hit the Oklahoma City suburbs yesterday. You know what to do: American Red Cross. Salvation Army. Recovers.org. Mercury One is organizing two truckloads from the Dallas area.

The Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt begins . . . 

Hey, I’m Just the President, Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything Around Here.

Let me get this straight: To hear Jay Carney tell it, the president is pleased that no one in his senior staff told him that the IRS was targeting his political enemies?

Senior White House officials, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, learned last month about a review by the Treasury Department’s inspector general into whether the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, but they did not inform President Obama, the White House said Monday.

The acknowledgement is the White House’s latest disclosure in a piecemeal, sometimes confusing release of details concerning the extent to which White House officials knew of the IG’s findings that IRS officials engaged in the “inappropriate” targeting of conservative non-profits for heightened scrutiny. Previously, the White House said counsel Kathryn Ruemmler did not learn about the final results of the investigation until the week of April 22nd, and had not disclosed that McDonough and other aides had also been told about the investigation. On Monday, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said a member of Ruemmler’s staff learned of the probe the week of April 16; Ruemmler learned of the investigation on April 24th; and after that point she informed the chief of staff and other aides about the probe’s findings.

The White House has said President Obama did not learn of the IRS’s actions until he saw news reports on the matter earlier this month.

Carney’s spiel included the explanation, “No one in this building intervened in an ongoing independent investigation or did anything that could be seen as intervening.” But a desire to not interfere with the investigation doesn’t quite explain why no one thought that the president ought to be informed about a major scandal of the IRS targeting his political enemies.

Doesn’t it bother Obama to learn about these things from the press? Doesn’t he chew anybody out?

Gabe Malor: “I want to know the names of the folks who get to decide what Obama doesn’t need to know. What are their credentials? Who elected them?”

We’ve seen the “senior administrative staff never mentions major, controversial problem to man in charge of the organization until it blows up on the front pages” playbook before. This is precisely the explanation that we were handed for “Fast and Furious” and how Eric Holder never learned about what was going on until Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry was murdered with a weapon from that program.

Time and again, information and warnings about the operation’s enormous risks flow from Arizona to Washington . . . and suddenly, mysteriously, stop just short of Holder.

The inspector general’s report concludes that they can find no evidence Holder knew about Fast and Furious until well after Terry’s death, but . . . well, the circumstances of Holder being so out of the loop, so in the dark about a major operation certainly appear unusual, perhaps to the point of straining credulity. The report states:

“We found it troubling that a case of this magnitude and that affected Mexico so significantly was not directly briefed to the Attorney General. We would usually expect such information to come to the Attorney General through the Office of the Deputy Attorney General . . . [Holder] was not told in December 2010 about the connection between the firearms found at the scene of the shooting and Operation Fast and Furious. Both Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler and Counsel to the Attorney General and Deputy Chief of Staff Wilkinson were aware of this significant and troubling information by December 17, 2010, but did not believe the information was sufficiently important to alert the Attorney General about it or to make any further inquiry regarding this development.”

Not “sufficiently important”? Baffling. Maddening. Some might even say, “implausible” . . . 

The report continues:

“We found it troubling that a case of this magnitude and that affected Mexico so significantly was not directly briefed to the Attorney General. We would usually expect such information to come to the Attorney General through the Office of the Deputy Attorney General . . . [Holder] was not told in December 2010 about the connection between the firearms found at the scene of the shooting and Operation Fast and Furious. Both Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler and Counsel to the Attorney General and Deputy Chief of Staff Wilkinson were aware of this significant and troubling information by December 17, 2010, but did not believe the information was sufficiently important to alert the Attorney General about it or to make any further inquiry regarding this development.”

Perhaps “Preserve the boss’s plausible deniability” is stitched on the throw pillows on the Oval Office couches.

Obama didn’t know the IRS was targeting conservatives until he read it in the papers. He didn’t know about “Fast and Furious” until he read it in the papers, too. He has “complete confidence” in Holder, and didn’t know about the decision to collect the phone records of reporters.  He didn’t know about the investigation into CIA director David Petraeus’s affair.  He told Letterman during the election he didn’t know what the national debt was. He didn’t know about the AIG bonuses in the TARP legislation. He said he didn’t know how bad the economic crisis was when he took office.

That “empty chair” metaphor from the Republican Convention was so out of line, huh?

I just picture a phone ringing here, going unanswered…

UPDATE: Sunshine State Sarah Rumpf looks at the rules of the District of Columbia Bar and concludes the White House Counsel’s office likely violated ethics by not promptly informing the president of the IRS abuses.

Tags: Barack Obama , IRS Abuses , Eric Holder , Fast and Furious

An Exciting, Fresh, Bold New Form of Media Bias



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In the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt . . . sent along to the editors at the usual time, and reaching readers a bit later under our new distribution system (we’re working on it) . . .

A Bold New Form of Media Bias

In light of the Washington Post basing its front-page headline on a survey with an astonishingly small sample and an astonishingly high margin of error, it is good to sum up what we’ve seen from the press in recent weeks.

ONE: For about eight days, the Obama administration told the public that their best assessment of the murder of our ambassador in Libya and three other Americans was that it was the result of a spontaneous protest against a tape mocking Islam on YouTube. This explanation sounded funny from the beginning — even in a place like Benghazi, who brings rocket-propelled grenades and mortars to a protest? — and it seemed surprising that so many in the administration, including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, seemed to dismiss the idea that a terror attack against American targets on September 11 was a serious possibility. Subsequent reports have revealed astonishingly insufficient security for a site with American lives and American intelligence. The administration’s sustained focus on the YouTube tape seemed to make little sense, outside of a desire to deflect from the continued pervasiveness of anti-American rage in the Middle East and signs of a resurgent al-Qaeda, themes that greatly complicate the argument of the Obama campaign. As of Friday, 17 days after the attack, the FBI had still not reached the consulate site to conduct a forensic investigation.

To their credit, certain places like CNN and ABC News have pursued this story with more vigor than their critics acknowledge.

On a related note, violent protests and threats of violence against American embassies continue, barely mentioned or acknowledged by most venues of the U.S. press. I guess it isn’t newsworthy until someone dies again.

TWO: Univision, a Spanish-language channel, has done an in-depth, detailed, long-form television journalism about the “Fast and Furious” program, showcasing that the violence from the “walked” guns was much worse than previously claimed by the government, and demonstrating the cost in human lives in searing images. (Moe Lane talks a bit about it here.) This report is much more vivid, detailed, and outraged than anything from almost all of the U.S. media, which accepted an inspector general’s report that claimed that repeated warnings and information kept coming up from the field agents but somehow mysteriously never reached the Attorney General. The report claimed that both Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler and Counsel to the Attorney General and Deputy Chief of Staff Wilkinson were informed about the connection between the firearms found at the scene of fatal shootings and Operation Fast and Furious, but neither believed “the information was sufficiently important to alert the Attorney General about it.”

THREE: With unemployment above 8 percent for forty-four straight months and GDP slowing to 1.25 percent, BuzzFeed declares “one of the central mysteries of 2012” is “How did we stop focusing on the economy?”

FOUR: Day after day, our troops in Afghanistan are targeted and killed by the Afghan troops they are supposed to be training. This barely merits more than periodic brief mentions in the national press. As Walter Russell Mead puts it:

If George W. Bush were president now, and had ordered the surge and was responsible for the strategic decisions taken and not taken in Afghanistan over the last four years, the mainstream press would be rubbing our noses in his miserable failures and inexcusable blunders 24/7. The New York Times and the Washington Post would be treating us to pictures of every fallen soldier. The PBS Newshour would feature nightly post-mortems on “America’s failed strategies in the Afghan War” and every arm-chair strategist in America would be filling the op-ed pages with the brilliant 20/20 hindsight ideas that our pathetic, clueless, failed president was too dumb and too cocky to have had.

Ace of Spades observed something we’re seeing in this cycle that is different even from the hope-and-change euphoria of Obama’s 2008 coverage:

Let me explain why this is different than previous bias.

Previously, the press has been both biased in a partisan way and an in an ideological way, but usually the partisanship was driven by ideology. As you may have noticed, the press are great fans of gay marriage and abortion, and they shape their coverage to put the best possible face on these positions, and the worst possible face on opponents. (To the extent they feature contrary voices at all.)

That’s bias, of course. We’ve gotten used to that.

But in the Benghazi debacle, there is no possible ideological grounding to explain their bias.There is, I trust, no ideological movement that advocates for intelligence failures and the deaths of good-guy diplomats. There is no ideological movement in favor of reckless incompetence bordering on malice in providing security for consulates abroad (which, as a legal matter, are considered US territory).

There is no ideological movement — or at least there was not before — championing the government’s right to lie to the public about its failures in order to avoid accountability.

There is no room here where one can say, “Ah well, they can’t help but be pulled a bit to the left by their own beliefs.” Because no one champions the right of government to let people be murdered and then lie about it.

This isn’t ideological bias, then. This is pure advocacy for a political party. Obama’s embarrassment is not an ideological issue — or should not be. I hope we can all agree that a president should attend security briefings — especially as 9/11 approaches — and provide adequate warning and security for US government personnel. I hope we can all agree that the government does not suddenly gain a Right To Shamelessly Lie about its failures, simply because it finds it politically advantageous to do so.

But, as Nina Totenberg’s chuckle indicates, the press now in fact believes exactly these things — so long as the president we’re talking about is Democrat, and Obama in particular.

Tags: Afghanistan , Barack Obama , Economy , Fast and Furious , Libya , Media , Mitt Romney

Eric Holder’s Implausibly Uncommunicative Staff



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The Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt features a discussion of the power of messages against the power of events, the latest news on the investigation in the Benghazi attack, and this important point to keep in mind when you hear that the Department of Justice’s inspector general’s report on “Fast and Furious” exonerated Attorney General Eric Holder:

The Slow and Credulous Inspector General’s Report on Fast and Furious

Nineteen months in the making, the Department of Justice’s Inspector General finally dropped the nearly 500-page report on Fast and Furious.

Over at the Guardian, I wrote:

The initial headlines screamed the IG report exonerated Holder. That’s one interpretation, although the portrait the report paints of Holder’s management is deeply disturbing. Time and again, information and warnings about the operation’s enormous risks flow from Arizona to Washington . . . and suddenly, mysteriously stop just short of Holder.

The Inspector General’s report concludes that they can find no evidence Holder knew about Fast & Furious until well after Terry’s death, but . . . well, the circumstances of Holder being so out of the loop, so in the dark about a major operation certainly appears unusual — perhaps to the point of straining credulity.

The report states:

“We found it troubling that a case of this magnitude and that affected Mexico so significantly was not directly briefed to the Attorney General. We would usually expect such information to come to the Attorney General through the Office of the Deputy Attorney General . . . [Holder] was not told in December 2010 about the connection between the firearms found at the scene of the shooting and Operation Fast and Furious. Both Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler and Counsel to the Attorney General and Deputy Chief of Staff Wilkinson were aware of this significant and troubling information by December 17, 2010, but did not believe the information was sufficiently important to alert the Attorney General about it or to make any further inquiry regarding this development.”

Not “sufficiently important”? Baffling. Maddening. Some might even say, ‘implausible.’

Time and again, everyone under Holder seems to do everything possible to make sure he isn’t informed about an operation that, in the words of the IG report, failed “to adequately consider the risk to public safety in the United States and Mexico.” In fact, information about the program went all the way to Holder’s office . . . but somehow the memos, e-mails, and other communication never got to the man himself. It’s as if he wasn’t there.

If you want to interpret that as a subtle “empty chair” allusion, feel free.

“As we describe below, we identified information regarding Operation Fast and Furious that reached the Office of the Attorney General in 2010 but not Attorney General Holder himself.”

Well.

If you’re wondering if this is covered by some sort of obscure procedure or rules, it isn’t: “[Holder] should have been informed by no later than December 17, 2010, that two firearms recovered at the Terry murder scene were linked to an ATF firearms trafficking investigation. . . . We found that although [Holder’s then deputy-chief-of-staff Monty] Wilkinson forwarded to Holder during the afternoon of December 15 three emails from the U.S. Attorney’s Office providing further details about the shooting and law enforcement efforts to find and arrest the suspects, he did not notify the Attorney General of the revelation that two weapons found at the murder scene were linked to a suspect in an ATF firearms trafficking investigation.

A suspicious mind could look at this strange pattern of underling after deputy after staffer not mentioning critical information, and information getting all the way to Holder’s office but not seen by the man himself, and conclude Holder’s staffers were keeping him in the dark to preserve his “plausible deniability.” Or perhaps someone just wasn’t honest with the inspector general.

We now know that the best that can be said about Holder is that he was oblivious to a major, exceptionally dangerous operation going on within his organization. The most generous interpretation is that he staffed his office with professionals with epically egregious judgment in deciding what the nation’s top law-enforcement officer needs to know.

For what it’s worth, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa wants to see a lot of heads roll, and argues that Holder doesn’t have any excuses, either:

“The Inspector General’s report confirms findings by Congress’ investigation of a near total disregard for public safety in Operation Fast and Furious. Contrary to the denials of the Attorney General and his political defenders in Congress, the investigation found that information in wiretap applications approved by senior Justice Department officials in Washington did contain red flags showing reckless tactics and faults Attorney General Eric Holder’s inner circle for their conduct.

“Former Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer who heads the Criminal Division, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, and Holder’s own Deputy Chief of Staff Monty Wilkinson are all singled out for criticism in the report. It’s time for President Obama to step in and provide accountability for officials at both the Department of Justice and ATF who failed to do their jobs. Attorney General Holder has clearly known about these unacceptable failures yet has failed to take appropriate action for over a year and a half.”

Tags: Eric Holder , Fast and Furious

Scathing Fast & Furious IG Report Imminent?



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While doing today’s Jolt, I came across this intriguing article from Fox News from a week ago — a news development lost in the (deserved) interest in the embassy-attack stories:

Dozens of senior-level U.S. government officials turned a blind eye to public safety as they pursued an ill-conceived and poorly managed investigation into gun trafficking in Mexico, according to a long-awaited inspector general’s report on Operation Fast and Furious.

Portions of the Justice Department IG report, which has not been made public, were obtained exclusively by Fox News Channel.

The report and accompanying accounts cite a failure in leadership and a lack of accountability and oversight up and down the chain of command at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Justice Department itself and other offices. It says many senior executives knew the U.S. was helping traffic guns to Mexico that killed people but did nothing to stop it.

“We found no evidence in Operation Fast and Furious that the ATF or the (U.S. attorney’s office) attempted at any point during the investigation to balance the risks to the public safety against the long-term benefits of identifying trafficking networks and participants,” the draft report says.

This is the inspector general report that was cited, again and again, as to why Department of Justice officials hesitated to answer questions — “there’s an ongoing investigation.” This Inspector General’s investigation began in February 2011, so we’re looking at a roughly 19-month effort.

Back in December 2011, the line was that the Department of Justice was never notified of what was going on: “Justice officials said they were never told about the Fast and Furious tactics and cite ATF internal emails as evidence.”

The Fox article suggest that the report will blame three managers in the ATF — but that two of the named managers insist that they kept high-level Justice officials in the loop, and were only encouraged:

Both men recall a detailed briefing Voth delivered to senior ATF and DOJ staff in Washington on March 5, 2010. In a Power Point presentation, attended by at least two deputy attorneys general, Voth explained how the operation was run and how almost two-dozen largely unemployed men bought 1,026 assault weapons with $650,000 in just over four months, then smuggled the guns to Mexico while under surveillance.

“Following the briefing . . . Mr. Voth received accolades from his superiors. No one in ATF leadership or at Main Justice raised any concerns with Mr. Voth about the direction of the investigation. If anything, they were encouraging him,” Voth attorney Joshua Levy said.

If nothing else, it shouldn’t be too hard to verify whether or not that briefing took place, and who attended.

It appears the defense from Attorney General Eric Holder will remain, “I had no idea any of these people who report to me were doing this, or that any of this was going on.”

Tags: Eric Holder , Fast and Furious

69 Percent Want Obama to Come Clean on
‘Fast & Furious’



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Wow. Among adults, not registered voters or likely voters, 53 percent approve of the U.S. House of Representatives holding “Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents related to a program called Operation Fast and Furious.” Only 33 percent disapprove.

The CNN survey also found that only 34 percent thought House Republicans had “real ethical concerns,” while 61 percent thought House Republicans did it to “gain political advantage.”

(What political advantage is that? Just how different is the level of “advantage” the House GOP has today compared to two weeks ago?)

Naturally, the CNN.com headline is, “CNN Poll: Was politics behind Holder contempt vote?

The pollsters also asked, “In the congressional investigation of Operation Fast and Furious, in your view, should President Obama and his aides continue to invoke executive privilege to protect the White House decision making process, or should they drop the claim of executive privilege and answer all questions being investigated?”

Only 28 percent said “invoke executive privilege,” and 69 percent said “answer all questions.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Eric Holder , Fast and Furious

Explaining ‘Fast & Furious’ to the Founding Fathers



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The final Morning Jolt of the week is full of reaction to the Obamacare decision, but it also includes this examination of how we got where we are in the investigation of Fast & Furious:

Oh, and Eric Holder’s in Contempt of Congress

Oh, and one other thought in the vein of the usefulness, and even necessity of ‘fear of the electorate’ . . .

Suppose you obtain a time machine, and look for some advice at the Constitutional Convention . . .

You: Hey, Founding Fathers, how do we make sure the nation’s law enforcement agencies don’t get involved, in, say, shipping massive amounts of guns — er, think of big muskets — to gangsters across the border? Suppose it was really terrible, like, one of those muskets being used to kill an American keeping a watchful eye on the border.

Founding Fathers: My goodness, you worry about such epic foolishness and folly in the future leadership of this nation! Well, under the Judiciary Act, the government shall have an Attorney General, and he could investigate and get to the bottom of it and hold the perpetrators accountable.

You: Okay, yeah, that’s not going to work. See, picture what probably seems like a crazy scenario to you guys, but imagine that this future Attorney General either doesn’t care or he was in on it or he just wants the issue to go away.

Founding Fathers: What a dishonorable toad! Surely if he picked such a reprehensible course of action, the president would act upon his authority to fire him and appoint a replacement who would ensure accountability.

You: Yeah, about that . . . let’s go out on a limb and say we end up with a president who has no interest in doing that.

Founding Fathers: Surely, there would be some sort of internal review of that agency, some inspector general who could get to the bottom of it.

You: Let’s assume that the Department of Justice’s Inspector General promises to investigate and then doesn’t say anything for sixteen months and we’re starting to suspect that when the whole thing comes out after the election, it’ll be a whitewash.

Founding Fathers: Congress would have oversight authority. Surely, they could get to the bottom of it and hold all the perpetrators accountable.

You: Yeah, well, that’s turning out pretty hit-and-miss, and quite dependent upon whistle-blowers.

Founding Fathers: How could that be? Congress will have subpoena power! They’ll be able to make the Attorney General turn over all the relevant documents!

You: Yeah, about that . . . the Attorney General’s not cooperating.

Founding Fathers: Well, he had better cooperate, unless he wants to he found in contempt of Congress!

You: Already done. Not really any sign he cares.

Founding Fathers: Son, how the heck did you end up being governed by this crew? What, did you elect the Barbary Pirates?

Tags: Eric Holder , Fast and Furious

The Obama of 2008 Would Have Cared About ‘Fast & Furious’



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I am back, and so is the Morning Jolt:

Fast & Furious: One More Example of How Obama Is Exactly the Guy His Critics Said He Was

The Barack Obama sold to us in 2008 would have cared about how something like Fast and Furious happened on his watch. The fact that Obama invoked executive privilege to protect his guys at the Department of Justice is just one more big red flashing-neon sign that when he said things like, “Make no mistake, we need to end an era in Washington where accountability’s been absent, oversight has been overlooked,” it was . . . well, just words. (That was on October 1, 2008.)

I’m one of those guys who thought that during the whole replaced-U.S.-Attorneys brouhaha in late 2006, the president ought to at least give a reason for replacing a U.S. Attorney. The attorney, Congress, and the public don’t have to like the reason, but considering the power and responsibility for those offices, the president ought to at least explain why a head federal prosecutor is being replaced, a process that presumably temporarily scrambles cases, investigations, and prosecutions.

Anyway, if you think Bush using his Constitutional authority to replace U.S. Attorneys is a giant scandal, but shrug your shoulders at the federal government sending guns to Mexico, where drug cartels use them to kill a U.S. Border Patrol agent, then you are a hopeless partisan hack who is literally willing to overlook murder to advance your political agenda.

This weekend, our Michael Walsh took to the pages of the New York Post to lay out what we know about Fast & Furious, and what we need to know. A key point:

By embracing his doomed attorney general, Obama has now forfeited plausible deniability and tied Fast and Furious directly to the White House, a decision he’s likely to regret — especially since he continues to assert that nobody in the West Wing were aware of the operation. Indeed, back in March 2011, Obama claimed he’d first learned of Fast and Furious “on the news” and said that Holder knew nothing.

Yeah, right. A document dump in early December last year proved conclusively that Holder’s chain-of-command subordinates knew all about it. Indeed, that knowledge now lies at the center of the contempt citation and Obama’s executive privilege claim — and of the mystery: how high does this go?

Holder got slapped with a contempt charge by the House Oversight Committee owing to his refusal to turn over a tranche of subpoenaed documents relating to the now-notorious letter of Feb. 4, 2011, in which Justice categorically denied any knowledge of, or involvement with, Fast and Furious. This despite hair-raising whistleblower stories from brave ATF agents describing their feelings of helplessness as batches of weapons were transferred from the US to Mexico right under their noses — and being ordered not to interfere.

But that letter, by assistant attorney general Ronald Weich — who conveniently announced his sudden retirement earlier this month — was “withdrawn” last December. “Facts have come to light during the course of this investigation that indicate the Feb. 4 letter contains inaccuracies,” wrote a Justice bigwig, wiping the egg from his face.

Obama’s executive privilege declaration covers the documents that directly pertain to the aftermath of the Feb. 4 letter, as Justice internally debated — according to Holder — “how to respond to congressional and related media inquiries into that operation.”

How to deal with potential perjury or obstruction charges is more like it.

Meanwhile, on the Sunday shows . . .

A letter sent to President Barack Obama will outline why his invocation of executive privilege over documents sought by lawmakers investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting is either “overbroad, or simply wrong,” House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa said Sunday.

The letter will be sent later Sunday or Monday, Issa, R-California, told ABC’s “This Week.” The oversight committee voted Wednesday to refer a potential contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder to the full House, which is set to vote this week.

“We’re past that part of the discovery, relative to contempt,” Issa said. “We know that there’s a lot of wrong things and we want to fix it. What we’re talking about now, when we get lied to, when the American people get lied to, there can’t be oversight when there’s lying.

“The Supreme Court held pretty clearly there cannot be executive privilege over a criminal cover-up,” he said. ” . . . Lying to Congress is a crime. We have every right to see documents to say, ‘Did you know?’ ‘What did you know?’ including even the president.”

However, he added, “If we get documents that do show, cast some doubt, or allow us to understand this, we’ll at least delay contempt and continue the process. We only broke off negotiations when we got a flat refusal when we asked to get information needed for our investigation.”

If the documents say what Holder claims they say, “we might dismiss contempt,” he said.

Gee, if Holder is telling the truth, that would seem to be a strong motivation to disclose the withheld documents, huh? Send the document to Issa and the committee, it checks out, the contempt charge goes away . . . Is the administration really going to tell us that Holder is taking the contempt charge out of principle? That he is sitting on evidence that verifies what he says, enhances his credibility, and defends the good name of him, his staff and the administration, and that he won’t reveal it out of dedication to the legally iffy notion of “deliberative process privilege”?

Or is it just that Holder is lying? Again?

Tags: Barack Obama , Eric Holder , Fast and Furious

Too Fast and Too Furious?



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House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa issued a memorandum and draft contempt report on Thursday making the case for holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. The report details the Department of Justice’s stonewalling of the Fast and Furious “gunwalking” program investigation. Under the program, ATF officials actively allowed as many as 2,000 illegally purchased guns to flow into the hands of U.S.-based operatives of a Mexican drug cartel. In December of 2010, suspected illegal aliens killed U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in a firefight. Investigators found two AK-variant guns which they linked to the DOJ’s “gunwalking” program. This tragedy sparked the Oversight Committee’s current investigation.

Everyone agrees, as Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano put it, that the program involved “lots of mistakes” that “should never be repeated.” This makes the investigation, a joint operation with Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking member Chuck Grassley, important. The DOJ apparently doesn’t think so. Although the Oversight Committee received around 7,000 pages of evidence from the DOJ, the DOJ’s Inspector General actually collected around 71,000 more pages of evidence. Chairman Issa believes these evasions impede the development of necessary legislative reforms in light of Fast and Furious, and prevent the delivery of justice to those affected by the program, including Agent Terry’s family.

The report’s findings are very disturbing, and the investigation deserves praise for bringing these details to light.

The DOJ was slow to admitting fault with the program, too many times doing so only when confronted. After the death of the agent, the DOJ initially denied any wrongdoing. It took almost 10 months for the DOJ to rescind that determination, admitting that Fast and Furious was “fundamentally flawed” (memo, pp. 1–2). The report explains that whistleblowers provided most of the information, which was then used to confront those who were involved in Fast and Furious (memo, p. 7). Instead of helping investigators, “the Department has issued false denials, given answers intended to misdirect investigators, sought to intimidate witnesses, unlawfully withheld subpoenaed documents, and waited to be confronted with indisputable evidence before acknowledging uncomfortable facts” (memo, p. 9).

The DOJ, despite claiming that privilege protects certain documents, likely did not make a good-faith effort to help the investigation. It stretches credibility to believe that almost 90 percent of the documents disclosed to the inspector general were truly privileged and could not be protected with commonly employed means of securing sensitive information. The DOJ has not even filled out a privilege log detailing why they are withholding documents, which would at least provide a starting point to evaluate their claims (memo, p. 9).

Chairman Issa believes that part of this stonewalling may be to protect DOJ employees, including those who retaliated against whistleblowers of the program (memo, p. 14). He explains that “Senator Chuck Grassley asked Attorney General Holder to reveal the identity of a Justice Department official who had been caught participating in the leaking of documents to smear an ATF whistleblower. Instead of naming the official at the hearing, Holder decided to protect his identity and refused to answer the question” (memo, p. 14).

The DOJ’s response to Fast and Furious is just one of many reasons to question Eric Holder’s judgment as our nation’s top law-enforcement official. Hopefully, General Holder will cooperate with the Oversight Committee, and help Chairman Issa and Senator Grassley bring those responsible for the Fast and Furious debacle to justice. 

Tags: Eric Holder , Fast and Furious

Discussing Fast & Furious, Holder Laments His ‘Character Assassination’



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This morning, I wrote, “Eric Holder Should Become a Campaign Issue Today.”

Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, New York Republican, offered a fine example of how to skewer the administration. The Attorney General of the United States should not be able to avoid any serious accountability by accusing critics of “political games” and claiming that he is the target of “character assassination.”

When a U.S. Border Patrol officer has been literally assassinated as a result of the scandal, it is audacious to play the victim card.

Buerkle’s line of questioning began by showing Mr. Holder video of the testimony given by the victim’s family that occurred at a previous Oversight and Government Reform Committee. She then proceeded to cross examine the Attorney General regarding his lack of accountability asking him “How many more Border Patrol Agents would have to die as part of Operation Fast and Furious for you to take responsibility?”

“The Attorney General’s testimony today was disgraceful. His continued deflection of accountability and denial of any knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious is shameful. If he, as head of the Department, is not accountable, then who is? How bad does a situation have to be, how many people have to be killed, before Mr. Holder believes he should be held accountable? If he had no knowledge of the program that is under his purview, then he is grossly incompetent,” said Rep. Buerkle.

“Throughout Congress’s investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, Attorney General Eric Holder has been consistent. He has been consistently callous toward the victim’s family, consistently inaccurate in the information he has provided to Congress, consistently not taken responsibility for his role, and consistently dodged difficult questions. I once again demand his resignation, because whether he is accountable or incompetent he has utterly failed in his responsibilities as Attorney General.”

Holder told Buerkle her question was “beneath a member of Congress.”

Tags: Eric Holder , Fast and Furious

Eric Holder Should Become a Campaign Issue Today



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From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Today, Eric Holder Loves Executive Privilege

So if Mitt Romney wanted something else to talk about besides what he meant when he made his comment about the “very poor,” he could always address this testimony coming from Attorney General Eric Holder, to be delivered today:

As I testified in a previous hearing, the Department does not intend to produce additional deliberative materials about the response to congressional oversight or media requests that postdate the commencement of congressional review. This decision is consistent with the long-standing approach taken by the Department, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and reflects concerns for the constitutionally-protected separation of powers.

Prior administrations have recognized that robust internal communications would be chilled, and the Executive Branch’s ability to respond to oversight requests thereby impeded, if our internal communications concerning our responses to congressional oversight were disclosed to Congress. For both Branches, this would be an undesirable outcome. The appropriate functioning of the separation of powers requires that Executive Branch officials have the ability to communicate confidentially as they discuss how to respond to inquiries from Congress. I want to note that the separation of powers concerns are particularly acute here, because the Committee has sought information about open criminal investigations and prosecutions. This has required Department officials to confer about how to accommodate congressional oversight interests while also ensuring that critical ongoing law enforcement decision-making is not compromised, and is free from even the appearance of political influence. Such candid internal deliberations are necessary to preserve the independence, integrity, and effectiveness of the Department’s law enforcement activities and would be chilled by disclosure to Congress of such materials. Just as we have worked to accommodate the Committee’s legitimate oversight needs, I trust that the Committee will equally recognize the Executive Branch’s constitutional interests and will work with us to avoid further conflict on this matter.

A bit of background:

On the eve of U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s appearance before Congress, a senior Justice Department official said the agency cannot meet the deadline Republican lawmakers have set to turn over more documents on the “Fast and Furious” gun operation or be held in contempt of Congress.

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said that the Feb. 9 deadline to submit all documents on the botched gun operation set this week by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was “impossible to meet.”

“We will continue in good faith to produce materials, but it simply will not be possible to finish the collection, processing and review of materials by the date sought in your most recent letter,” Cole wrote Tuesday in a five-page letter to Issa.

On Tuesday, Issa threatened to hold Holder in contempt if the Justice Department does not turn over the documents, which the panel subpoenaed in October.

Thus, the administration that took military action in Libya without any authorization from force from Congress, that appointed czars with policymaking authority without congressional confirmation, and that made “recess” appointments while Congress was not in recess is invoking executive privilege to cover how the Department of Justice reacted when Congress began asking about a gun-trafficking operation that got U.S. law enforcement officers murdered by Mexican drug cartels.

All from a president who railed against a runaway imperial presidency when George W. Bush sat in the office he currently occupies.

Tags: Barack Obama , Eric Holder , Fast and Furious

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