Politics & Policy

Issa Investigates Project Gunrunner

President Obama is hiding behind big government in the hopes that a scandal will fade away.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) is set to issue a number of subpoenas to federal officials who have ties to “Fast and Furious,” a secret program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) that put thousands of semi-automatic firearms into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Fast and Furious was a new addition to the ATF’s now-defunct “Project Gunrunner” program. It authorized (“pressed” is probably a more accurate word) U.S. gun stores located near the Mexican border to sell thousands of semi-automatic firearms to suspected and known straw-purchasers (those who buy guns for someone who can’t do so legally). The idea, apparently, was that the guns would lead the ATF to the heads of the cartels.

This program didn’t make headlines until Dec. 14, 2010. That day, during a late-night shootout between the U.S. Border Patrol and armed Mexican illegals in a remote canyon near Nogales, Ariz., 41-year-old federal agent Brian Terry was shot and killed. The U.S. Border Patrol agents had initially used beanbag rounds against the illegals. This loss of a federal agent in a beanbag-versus-rifle shootout should have been controversial enough — but the fact that agent Terry was killed by a firearm the ATF had “walked” across the border should have put this ill-considered program on every cable news network. Ditto for the fact that, as the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, a cartel arsenal recently captured in Mexico also contains guns from the sting. 

But aside from CBS News, the mainstream media hasn’t been all that interested in investigating, and the Obama administration has been stonewalling. Two ATF agents — John Dodson, who is stationed in Phoenix, and Darren Gil, who was forced to retire as the agency’s attaché in Mexico City — became whistleblowers. Both Dodson and Gil have made the scandal public by speaking to CBS and other news outlets. Both agents say the orders for the program to send guns quietly into Mexico came from way over their heads, but neither knows how high up. Just where the idea began is what Representative Issa is hoping to discover. 

Representative Issa’s investigation has been so stymied by the Obama administration that on June 3, some 31 congressional Democrats wrote to the president to urge him to end the administration’s stonewalling on the Fast and Furious program. In the letter, spearheaded by Rep. Jason Altmire (D., Pa.), the lawmakers called the uncooperative tactics “extremely troubling” and found the Justice Department’s failure to provide information to congressional investigators “equally troubling.” They say Americans deserve “prompt and complete answers.”

Though the details of just who authorized the program won’t be clear until Representative Issa’s investigation forces some compliance, this wasn’t the Obama administration’s first blunder when it comes to cartels and guns. In 2009, President Obama repeatedly claimed that “more than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States.” But then Fox News investigated. It turned out that the 90 percent figure is derived not from all the “guns recovered in Mexico,” but from the firearms that were submitted by Mexican officials to the U.S. for tracing. The Mexicans sent only the guns they thought came from the U.S., so it is hardly surprising that a high percentage of those guns were indeed American in origin. Obama had simply gotten the number wrong, presumably to bolster the case for gun control in the U.S.

Perhaps, through Representative Issa’s investigation, we’ll find out how high up the ladder the authorization for Fast and Furious goes. When we do, it just be might be worth recalling that President Obama told a Univision interviewer last March, “Well, first of all, I did not authorize it. Eric Holder, the attorney general, did not authorize it.”

Right now it’s amusing that when the Univision reporter asked if President Obama had been informed about the Fast and Furious program, Obama replied, “Absolutely not, this is a pretty big government, the United States government. I got a lot of moving parts.”

So, President Obama is hiding behind big government in the hopes that this scandal — a scandal that wouldn’t even be under investigation by Congress if the American public had not handed the U.S. House of Representatives back to the Republicans in November of 2010 — will fade away.

— Frank Miniter’s next book, out June 28, is Saving the Bill of Rights.


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