Stakes escalate in Fast and Furious

June 24, 2012 • Editorial

Now the Obama administration’s attorney general has been held in contempt of Congress for withholding documents in the Operation Fast and Furious scandal. With voting along partisan lines — all 23 Republicans in favor and all 17 Democrats against — the action was taken Wednesday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista.

Earlier Wednesday, President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold the documents.

Fast and Furious was an effort by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to track guns sold in the U.S. that flowed into Mexico and the hands of drug cartels. But ATF lost track of hundreds of them. Some guns were involved in the deaths of at [auth] least dozens of people, including U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

In a letter sent Tuesday to the president, Attorney General Eric Holder said that handing over the documents from the White House to Congress supposedly “would raise substantial separation-of-powers concerns and potentially create an imbalance in the relationship.” He also acknowledged that the Justice Department “has instituted various reforms to ensure that it does not repeat these law enforcement and oversight mistakes.”

But how can we be sure those reforms have been enacted without Congress checking on it?

The contempt finding now is before the full House of Representatives. If contempt is voted there, then the contempt citation — an order to hand over the documents — would be assigned to Holder’s own Justice Department. What a mess.

Usually, the president — the executive branch — invokes “executive privilege” concerning such matters as military plans. It is unusual for the president to do so when Congress is trying to investigate a botched operation. A committee even investigated Pearl Harbor, which brought America into World War II.

“Attorney General Holder has been given a mile of rope by Issa, who has been patient” through months of negotiations, Maureen Martin told us; she’s senior fellow for legal affairs at the Heartland Institute. “Now to get this claim of executive privilege is pretty awful. The Department of Justice is just cobbling together excuses. It’s a blame game at this point.”

On Fast and Furious, Martin said that letting the guns “walk” into Mexico “was totally against Department of Justice policy. It’s just not clear to me why anybody thought this was a good idea.”

Shortly after he was inaugurated in 2009, President Obama wrote in a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies, “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration.” So much for promises.

Whatever happens, voters will have the final say in November on Fast and Furious, and on the Obama administration as a whole.

Guest Editorial

The Orange County Register

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