Holder, Fast and Furious and the GOP double standard

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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Attorney General Eric Holder has been the subject of vicious partisan personal attacks on his integrity over the failed “gun walking” operation, “Fast and Furious.” The hypocrisy of the double standard by congressional Republicans is obvious.

The chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has abandoned a legitimate bipartisan critique of the misguided and dangerous Fast and Furious law-enforcement technique — which allowed illegal guns to be sold to dangerous people and to “walk” across the Mexican border untraced and dangerous. Instead, he is apparently trying to send a resolution to the House floor to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for doing what Republican administrations have done over the years — resisting encroachments by Congress in document demands that violate the separation of powers and might compromise ongoing criminal investigations. So far the GOP House leadership hasn’t agreed.

Let’s start with three facts that are not in dispute:

First: Holder and most everyone else agree that the Fast and Furious operation was a tragic mistake. Because of sloppy, perhaps criminally negligent supervision by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), guns “walked” across the border in the hands of illegal “straw” purchasers were lost, untracked and left in the hands of murderous thugs, with many found at various crime scenes in Mexico. Two of those guns allegedly purchased by illegal “straws” apparently without interdiction or even close supervision by ATF agents were found where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot to death south of Tucson, Ariz., in December 2010.

Second: Attorney General Holder, as soon as he learned about apparent violations of Justice Department and law enforcement rules and policies by the ATF, ordered an inspector general investigation. That investigation is independent, ongoing and could result in the prosecution of officials who violated the law. Moreover, the AG has clearly repudiated this ill-founded and badly supervised “gun walking” program.

Third, the use — and misuse — of the “gun walking” technique didn’t begin with Holder. The first two instances occurred in the latter years of the Bush Justice Department: in 2006, with an operation called “Operation Wide Receiver”; and in 2007, with then-Republican Attorney General Michael Mukasey being informed about “gun-walking” in a November 2007 memo during a trip to Mexico — said to be the first time an attorney general was informed of the technique. Yet Issa refuses to call Mukasey as a witness to discuss this issue, while attacking Holder.

So the double standard seems hard to deny. But both parties over the years have exhibited this type of political hypocrisy. We know that conservative Republicans say they believe in strict construction of the Constitution, particularly the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches that is a core premise of the Framers.

So when Democrats in Congress sought to subpoena memos and documents between the White House and the Bush Justice Department over the alleged political firings of U.S. attorneys, the Bush White House resisted on the grounds of separation of powers, and Republicans in Congress defended that resistance. And what did Democrats do? The Democratic House voted to hold two top administration officials in “contempt” of Congress — which could lead to criminal convictions and imprisonment for following White House instructions on honoring that important constitutional principle.

Yet during the Clinton administration, the Republican-controlled House Oversight panel voted Attorney General Janet Reno in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena related to campaign finance law violations. This time it was the Democratic White House insisting on upholding the principle of separation of powers and protecting confidential deliberative documents created by senior Justice Department officials advising the president — and Republicans who insisted on ignoring that principle.

And where are the conservative Republicans in the House protesting this blatant disregard for the constitutional principle of separation of powers and danger to ongoing criminal investigations? And where are the Democrats admitting that they did the same thing to President George W. Bush’s Justice Department?

I think most of the American people are sick of this hyper-partisanship and hypocritical double standard in Washington. They see the effort to scapegoat Mr. Holder as the latest example of the out-of-control politics of personal destruction.

And I think they are saying — left, right and center, liberal, independent, conservative — to both parties:


Lanny Davis, a Washington D.C. attorney specializing in legal crisis management, served as Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton in 1996-98 and served as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Board in 2006-07. He currently serves as Special Counsel to Dilworth Paxson. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Crisis Tales – Five Rules for Handling Scandal in Business, Politics and Life,” to be published by Simon & Schuster.