The disputed documents sought by the House involve Justice Department memoranda on an attempt led by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to feed weapons to Mexican drug cartels in the hope of running down illegal gun-runners. The agency tragically lost track of the firearms, which have shown up at crime scenes in which Mexican citizens have been killed. Two of the disputed weapons were found at the scene of a gun battle in Arizona, which led to the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, formerly of Flat Rock.
The issue now moves to the courts, where resolution could take months, if not years. That’s hardly fair to the parents of Agent Terry. While 17 Democrats voted with the GOP House majority to find Holder in contempt, a number of other Democrats walked out of the House.
This really shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Congress has the right to ask questions. Nobody disputes that the gun sting was a botched operation.
The questions by members of the House (and the Senate, in a joint inquiry led by Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa) go to the extent of the knowledge by Justice Department officials of the gun sting operation when it first came to light.
There’s an understandable tendency in all government agencies to hunker down and circle the wagons when Congress issues subpoenas, but unless grave matters of national security are involved, Congress deserves answers.
Now, however, the issues will be lost in a thicket of litigation. The House voted two resolutions of contempt: one a criminal citation and one a civil citation. The criminal contempt resolution now goes to the District of Columbia U.S. attorney, an Obama appointee who answers to Holder.
No action is expected from the criminal citation. The separate civil citation will play out in the courts for an indefinite period.
In the early months of 2008, a Democratic House voted similar contempt resolutions against aides to President George W. Bush. The criminal case went nowhere. The civil case was ultimately settled in 2009 with a compromise on the requested documents, which had to do with the dismissal of several U.S. attorneys early in the Bush tenure.
The inquiry into the gun sting is of much greater consequence. A federal law enforcement officer is dead as well as a number of Mexican civilians.
If there is a chance to reach a compromise in which information is released to Congress without protracted legal wrangling, both the administration and the House should seek to find it.
That would best serve the interests of all citizens, who deserve a proper accounting of the gun sting failure. Most deserving of such an accounting are the parents of Agent Terry.
The Detroit News