The stench from Washington is getting stronger.
Holder’s hell week
More Fast & Furious fallout
Last Updated: 12:52 AM, September 22, 2011
Michael A. Walsh
The stench from Washington is getting stronger. Rep. Darrell Issa has called for a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of the festering mess known as Operation Fast and Furious.
Hatched somewhere in the bowels of the Justice Department, that misbegotten scheme had the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives deliberately allowing high-powered guns to “walk” from Arizona and elsewhere into Mexico: Our agents turned a blind eye toward the straw purchasers who were funneling the weapons to the drug cartels.
The (dumb) idea was to trace cross-border arms trafficking, and so prove the (false) claim that 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexican drug war zones originate in the US. (The real figure is closer to 17 percent.) But, as Issa’s Oversight and Government Reform committee continues its investigation, that pretension has evaporated -- and a major international scandal has been born.
Marisela Morales, the Mexican attorney general, estimates that at least 200 Mexicans have been killed with Fast and Furious weapons -- among them, a powerful Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle that took down a federal helicopter. Morales, who calls the program a “betrayal” of her country, told the Los Angeles Times that she first learned about Fast and Furious from news reports, and that US officials still haven’t briefed their Mexican counterparts on it.
She shouldn’t feel lonely: The administration has been notably unforthcoming to everybody on this one. Eric Holder’s Justice has engaged in a rearguard battle against Issa’s committee -- turning over subpoenaed documents only slowly and heavily redacted, making witnesses unavailable and transferring or retiring implicated officials such as former ATF head Kenneth Melson. Issa has publicly accused Holder & Co. of “gaming” congressional investigators.
Yet the drip, drip, drip of revelations continues. A third “Fast and Furious” gun has now been linked to the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, whose death in Arizona last December at the hands of Mexican bandits started to crack the scandal open.
In addition to the ATF and the FBI, other agencies already implicated include the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the IRS. Other tidbits suggest involvement by higher-ups at the Department of Homeland Security and the White House itself.
In short, Issa is right to call for an outside special prosecutor -- someone independent of the usual Justice Department chain of command and with broad investigative powers.
“There is an ongoing coverup of a pattern of wrongdoing,” Issa noted earlier this week. “Even though I have subpoena ability, I don’t have the ability to lock people up for contempt until they fess up and give us what we want.”
Locking people up will probably have to happen. For the evidence strongly suggests that Fast and Furious was hatched in the Justice Department in an attempt to paint law-abiding American gun dealers and gun owners as renegades, to give the administration an excuse to crack down.
In other words, it was a deliberate provocation, undertaken without a thought for how it might affect our relations with Mexico -- or how many people might die.
Issa says he hopes his committee will wrap up its investigation by the end of year, opening the way for a special prosecutor. In any event, he’s got his hands full: His committee is just now digging into a new mess involving the company LightSquared, which allegedly traded big-money donations to the Democratic Party for administration pressure on federal regulators.
At least he doesn’t have to probe Solyndra -- the “green” solar-panel maker with strong ties to the White House that recently went belly up, taking half a billion in taxpayer dollars with it, and is now under investigation by the FBI. Two top Solyndra moguls appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday -- and plan to take the Fifth.