If ever there is an example of hyper-partisanship, the recent personal attacks challenging the honesty and competence of Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the ATF’s errors in its “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking program should be Exhibit A.
Fast and Furious was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) program in which guns were allowed to be illegally purchased so that they could be tracked to gun traffickers and Mexican drug cartel leaders. But the ATF, which now is supervised by the Justice Department, lost track of the guns — which were “allowed to walk,” as the parlance goes. Some of the guns were later found at the scene of murders of law enforcement officers.
There is no question that the program was botched — Eric Holder has called it seriously flawed and immediately established a DOJ inspector general investigation. But the Republican haste to blame it all on Holder and accuse him of lying to Congress — even calling for a special prosecutor — seems to me to be way over the top.
Here are the facts I believe congressional Republicans making these personal attacks on Holder know, or should know.
First, Republican congressional leaders know that this is not the first time this type of ATF gun-tracking program has gone wrong. A similar program with similar problems began under the George W. Bush administration. As CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson reported, “Operation Wide Receiver” was implemented in 2007 during the tenure of then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. A source told Attkisson that during this program, hundreds of guns “walked” across the Mexican border.
Second, Republicans know Holder was asked a question during a congressional hearing about when he first learned about this program in the context of prior questions concerning the mismanagement of the program. He said he first learned about it — meaning the problems and faulty tactics — in the spring of 2011.
Republicans know that the former U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona, the jurisdiction in which ATF was implementing the program, and the former acting director and deputy director of ATF supposedly in charge have said they also did not know about the problems in Fast and Furious until just recently, and that they had not briefed the attorney general until this year, as he testified.
Third, the Republicans know Holder could not be expected to have remembered a few lines making general reference to this program among hundreds of pages of reports from 24 departments regularly delivered to the office of the attorney general. Even if Holder had read every line of every report — and Republicans know he didn’t and it would be unreasonable to expect an attorney general to do so — it is a fact that none of the references to the program included any disclosure of the problems and errors in the Fast and Furious program, as Republicans also know.
Fourth, congressional Republicans should recognize that, ultimately, this is a law enforcement issue that needs bipartisan support and assistance, not political cheap shots. You would think that conservative Republicans, who are known to emphasize law enforcement, would be providing the ATF and other law enforcement with the maximum number of tools to control and track these guns. These include closing loopholes in laws that facilitate following guns across the border and imposing strict reporting requirements for gun purchases to help combat gun trafficking. Unfortunately, many of those most vocal in criticizing Holder have opposed this legislation.
Americans have become so tired of politicians in Washington politicizing virtually everything.
Mistakes can never be honest. Motives are always questioned. Members of the opposition are not only the subjects of policy disagreements; they must be demonized.
I say respectfully to Republicans responsible for these unfortunate attacks on Eric Holder what I have previously said to Democrats who unfairly personally attacked Bush Attorney General Gonzales:
We are all sick of this — in both parties.
Lanny Davis is the principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which specializes in strategic crisis management. He served as President Clinton’s Special Counsel in 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2006-07. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). He can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@LannyDavis).
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