Politics & Policy

Botching Fast and Furious

Texas senator John Cornyn recently joined the growing number of Republicans who’ve called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign. And a week from today, the House Oversight Committee will convene to consider pursuing a contempt-of-Congress citation against Holder. If the committee decides to proceed, the entire House will vote on the matter.

Holder has no intention of resigning, especially on the say-so of Republicans — but the attorney general has much to answer for, and Republicans should continue to make the case that he is wholly inadequate to his position and operating in bad faith.

Holder oversaw the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives during a time in which it ran Operation Fast and Furious — a program in which ATF agents deliberately allowed drug cartels to traffic more than 1,000 guns into Mexico and made no attempt to track the weapons as they changed hands. Two of the guns were found at the scene of a Border Patrol agent’s murder. Many more have turned up at other crime scenes, and as even Holder has admitted, the fallout from Fast and Furious will continue for “years to come.” Documents that were obtained by the Oversight Committee via leaks — in particular, wiretap applications — suggest that several high-ranking officials within the Justice Department knew that guns were being allowed to “walk.”

The Justice Department has conceded that Fast and Furious was a terrible idea and vowed to prevent its reoccurrence, but beyond that, Holder has spent more than a year refusing to come clean about the operation. In February of 2011, his department outrageously denied that gunwalking had even occurred, a statement it waited until December to retract. When the Oversight Committee requested various documents throughout 2011, Holder often waited months to provide them. Just last week, in congressional testimony, Holder asserted that the words “Fast and Furious,” found in a wiretap application along with references to gunwalking, do not refer to Fast and Furious.

The issue that inspired the forthcoming contempt hearing — Holder’s failure to provide the Oversight Committee with some of the Fast and Furious materials it wants — is difficult. There are few hard legal standards governing congressional subpoenas of executive-branch officials, congressional oversight can overstep the bounds set by the separation of powers, and there may be legitimate reasons for Holder to withhold some of the documents. These conflicts are typically resolved only when the two parties reach a compromise. But Holder gives the impression of someone who does not wish to cooperate in good faith; according to an Oversight Committee report, his department has provided no documents at all for several broad categories of requests, including “any investigative reports prepared by the FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) referring or relating to targets, suspects, or defendants in the Fast and Furious case.”

Since taking office, Holder has stacked the Justice Department with politically motivated lawyers and enforced civil-rights laws in a racially biased fashion, for example dropping a solid voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panthers. He has asked a prosecutor to investigate CIA interrogators for alleged crimes that had already been investigated. He has tried to move Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to New York for a civilian trial. He has claimed voter-ID laws are tantamount to Jim Crow. The list goes on.

In testimony before the Oversight Committee yesterday, Holder said he was unsure whether he’ll stay on as attorney general if President Obama is reelected. His misrule of Justice cannot end soon enough.


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