Slow and Infuriating
Feb 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 21 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Last Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder was called to testify before Congress. His attitude toward his questioners was by any measure unbecoming of his office. At one point he actually demanded he be “given some credit” for his performance as attorney general. Though, bad as that outburst was, it was slightly less petulant than the earlier insinuation that his critics are racist.
One hopes Holder isn’t expecting kudos for his handling of the Fast and Furious scandal—the reason for his latest testimony. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was once again seeking an explanation for the gun-running operation under which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) transferred some 2,000 weapons to Mexican criminal gangs, including weapons later used in the killing of at least one American, a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Ostensibly, the purpose was to trace the organizational networks of narcotraffickers, but little effort was made to keep track of the guns, and many have not been recovered. There’s simply no law enforcement rationale for the scheme that makes any sense.
Just six days before Holder’s testimony, the Justice Department made yet another Friday night document dump. A series of emails revealed that Holder’s deputy chief of staff had informed the attorney general of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder on the day it happened, December 14, 2010. The deputy was further informed that Terry had been killed with a gun that was part of the Fast and Furious operation.
It seems highly unlikely that Holder’s deputy chief of staff would apprise the attorney general of Terry’s death, but not of the crucial information about the weapon used. This suggests Holder may have lied in sworn testimony to Congress last May, when he said he’d heard about the operation for the first time a “few weeks” before. (Holder has already walked back that statement to a “few months.”) Previous Justice Department memos addressed to Holder containing detailed information about Fast and Furious had been released by the oversight committee. Holder improbably claims he did not read them, and this latest revelation only pokes more holes in those protestations of ignorance.
But not only does it appear Holder is not telling the truth about Fast and Furious, he is fighting any attempt to compel him to do so. Of the 80,000 documents the Justice Department has identified as being relevant to Fast and Furious, it has released only 6,000. Of the 70 Justice Department officials identified as being involved with Fast and Furious, Holder is denying congressional investigators access to 48. (Recall that last July 4, Kenneth Melson, former acting head of the ATF, defied Holder and testified in secret to the House Oversight Committee with his personal lawyer present.)
But the capstone to all of this is that Holder defended his unwillingness to come clean Thursday by invoking an expansive definition of executive privilege as covering all communications by executive branch personnel that relate to congressional investigations. This was the same tactic that made liberals apoplectic when the Bush administration used it—only Holder bizarrely went a step further by insisting that this benefited Congress.
Of course, if Holder is feeling a bit defensive and beleaguered, perhaps it’s because in the wake of his latest congressional testimony people are now saying things such as this about him:
If you haven’t figured it out already, that stinging missive was signed “PROUD MOM OF BRIAN A. TERRY.” The anguished message of Terry’s mother was posted on her Facebook page, presumably because no reporter bothered to ask her how much credit Holder deserves.
Holder’s testimony was not reported by a single national news program that evening, though NBC News did manage to cover Michelle Obama’s appearance on Ellen. Nor did it make the front page of the Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, or USA Today the following day.
More surprising, the Fast and Furious scandal has been briefly discussed only once during the 18 Republican debates so far. Perhaps the only way Holder and those responsible for Fast and Furious will be held accountable is if the scandal becomes an election issue. If, unlike Barack Obama, GOP hopefuls do seek justice and want to earn the votes of America’s bitter clingers, they might consider giving Brian Terry’s mother a call.