Holder not the real culprit in ‘Fast and Furious’

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The conservative blogosphere lit up last week when CBS News reported that Attorney General Eric Holder was briefed on “Operation Fast and Furious” as far back as July 2010 — a fact which, if accurate, could be construed as inconsistent with his testimony earlier this year before a congressional panel. During his public testimony in March, Holder said he recalled having heard of the botched operation only shortly before the hearing.Some Republicans are calling for Holder’s head on a platter, or at least for a special prosecutor to be appointed to “look into” the matter.

There is much about “Fast and Furious” that ought to concern the Congress. Most importantly, the House and the Senate ought to be inquiring into why the ATF has become so dysfunctional that hundreds (if not thousands) of firearms could wind up in the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels with the active involvement of a U.S. government agency statutorily charged with monitoring and preventing such transactions.

Spending time and credibility pressing the tangential issue of when the attorney general was briefed on the operation fails to even skim the surface of the heavy-duty oversight of ATF in which the Congress ought to be fully engaged.

Rather than spending time trying to pinpoint when Holder knew of the particular operation and what he might have known about it, the House and Senate committees with oversight of ATF ought to be focusing on far more difficult and important questions, including:

    • Why ATF has not operated under a permanent director since the position was made subject to Senate confirmation in 2006 (of course, the Senate must share blame for this irresponsible situation).
    • Why there appear to be no clear guidelines governing when ATF should engage in “controlled” straw purchases of firearms.
    • With regard to investigations in which ATF is involved and which clearly have international ramifications, whether there exist adequate coordination protocols in place between ATF, the State Department, the Defense Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Customs and Border Protection, so the left hand stands at least a fighting chance of knowing what the right hand is doing.
    • Whether the regulatory side of ATF (which oversees federal firearms licensees, among other things) is properly coordinated with the law enforcement side of the agency, and whether the former has become the tail wagging the dog.
    • The state of the internal Department of Justice investigation into “Fast and Furious” which the attorney general initiated earlier this year.

It is always easy to lob personal or political grenades at a sitting attorney general or other cabinet officer. Working to substantively fix a long-standing federal agency — especially one that largely determines whether American citizens’ fundamental, constitutionally guaranteed rights are protected or decimated — is a much more difficult task. The Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate, however, would serve the American people and federal law enforcement well by focusing on the latter approach. And, the Obama administration could help itself and federal law enforcement by working with the Congress in such endeavors.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.