People from across the region gathered to celebrate the anniversary of a church founded 145 years ago.
It was a good day.But then, as the elders like to say, “up popped the devil.”In fact, 23 devils.Actually, they aren’t devils. They are the 23-member Republican majority of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who like to do devilish things such as recommending that the attorney general be held in contempt of Congress simply because they have the power and lust to do so.
Their pack is led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a headline-chasing publicity hound who never met an accusation too loopy to hurl. Issa got the Republican members to believe — or at least to say they believe — that Holder is withholding critical information from the panel. The committee’s 17 Democrats believe otherwise and voted against the contempt citation, noting that Holder’s Justice Department has turned over 7,600 documents relating to the issue that’s got Issa in a faux snit.The issue is called “Operation Fast and Furious,” a venture of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that allowed illegal gun buyers to take weapons to Mexico in the hopes that federal agents could track the weapons to a drug cartel.Committee arithmetic being what it is, Issa got his way, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has promised a vote on the House floor next week if Holder doesn’t turn over all of the internal documents that Issa seeks. With the Obama administration citing executive privilege to withhold some documents, a nasty, partisan floor fight is likely.
Score one for cheap political opportunism.
Neither Fast and Furious nor Issa’s fake fury justifies the looming crisis between the House of Representatives and the Obama administration. This politically inspired dispute diverts attention from issues of real consequence. That’s the shame of it all.
Two weeks ago, the talk at St. Mary’s was about the urgent priority of fulfilling the promise of security, liberty, opportunity and justice for everyone in this country. It was all about progress and the ability to come together to realize the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. entrusted to us.
There was optimism in the congregation that Sunday morning. People in the pews seemed to share Holder’s view that the record of progress passed to them can be extended, and that, as he said, they should “keep faith — in the Divine, in one another, and in the great nation it is our honor to help lead — and our solemn responsibility to serve.”
It was all about shared purpose and common cause, collective efforts, individual actions and marching toward progress.
Alas, that was before this week, Darrell Issa and his devilish ways.
- Colbert I. King
- Opinion Writer
Jun. 21, 2012 – The ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, came to the defense of Eric Holder in a hearing on Wednesday to consider holding the Attorney General in contempt of Congress over the Fast and Furious scandal. (CBS News)
These are the facts, and they don’t cover any Justice Department officials with glory. But neither do they remotely justify the partisan witch hunt by House Republicans who threaten, without legitimate cause, to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress. Obama has responded by asserting executive privilege — effectively shutting down the inquisition.The House wants to go fishing in a vast sea of documents, some of which relate to ongoing investigations. As a believer in sunshine and disclosure, I don’t much care for questionable claims of executive privilege. But I like the politically motivated sideshow the GOP is staging even less.Holder called the contempt threat “an extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action . . . an election-year tactic intended to distract attention.”
His frustration — especially with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — is understandable. Holder has acknowledged that Fast and Furious was a mistake. He has turned over more than 7,600 documents relating to the botched operation. He has personally testified on Capitol Hill about the matter on nine occasions.Indeed, Fast and Furious was a grievous error. All told, suspects were allowed to buy more than 2,000 firearms — including AK-47s, .50-caliber sniper rifles, powerful handguns — and fewer than 700 were ever seen again. Of the weapons that were recovered, many were found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States. But even as it became clear that Fast and Furious guns were being used as instruments of mayhem, the operation continued.Then in December 2010, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in a shootout with suspected illegal immigrants in Arizona. Two assault rifles found at the scene were identified as Fast and Furious weapons; it could not be determined whether one of them fired the bullet that killed Terry.In testimony before Issa’s committee, ATFagent John Dodson, a critic of the operation, stated the obvious: “I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any legitimate law enforcement interest.”Congress has not only the right but also the duty to investigate how such a bad idea as gun-walking was conceived and executed over five years — and to make sure nothing of the sort happens again. The problem is that Issa isn’t interested in the truth. He just wants to score political points.Issa’s focus isn’t on the operation itself. It’s on what Holder and Justice Department officials did or did not say last year when questions were first raised.
What Issa wants to do is manufacture something that can be portrayed as a high-level Obama administration cover-up. The problem is: A cover-up of what? Holder has acknowledged that the operation, of which he says he was unaware, was wrong. He has provided documents showing how wrong the operation was, and why. He has taken responsibility for the whole thing, because he is the boss. As cover-ups go, this is pretty lame.
What should Congress be investigating? The obvious first step is learning how officials in two administrations convinced themselves it was sensible to stand back and watch as powerful weapons passed into the hands of Mexican drug smugglers.
Then Congress should look into the overall flow of firearms from the United States into Mexico. The Fast and Furious weapons were just a small part of a much larger problem. Mexican officials have complained for years that lax U.S. gun laws have the effect of worsening drug-related violence along the border. The damage done by cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine smuggled north across the border is mirrored by the damage done by guns smuggled south.
If Issa really wants to save U.S. and Mexican lives, he should convene hearings on banning the sale of high-powered weapons. I think Holder would be happy to testify.
- Eugene Robinson
- Opinion Writer