Published November 08, 2011
Blame Bush. It has been almost three years since President Obama took office, yet he still blames Bush for the bad economy. Now the Obama administration is following the same strategy to get out of the "Fast and Furious" mess.
"Fast and Furious," also called the "Gunwalker" case, involves the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF) agents ordering American gun dealers to sell guns to obvious Mexican drug gang members during 2009 and 2010. This was done over the objections of the gun dealers.
Both Fox News and the Washington Post started covering this scandal in early February this year. It may be excusable that Attorney General Eric Holder did not read the press reports, but, if we are to believe his congressional testimony Tuesay, he and his staff also neglected to pay attention to the 100 or so page "weekly reports" summarizing activity in the Justice Department.
Those reports began mentioning the operation as long ago as July 2010. When Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee in May this year he claimed: "I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks." Holder reiterated again Tuesday that he simply didn't have the time to read even the summaries. Neither did his staff.
Holder had few options today.
Even President Obama gave an interview in March where he indicated that at that time Holder knew about the operation. With the president on record saying that he knew about the operation before April, Holder conceded Tuesday that probably knew about the operation at least a month earlier than he had previously testified.
The Obama administration has also tried to show the practice originated in the Bush administration during 2006 and 2007 under operation “Wide Receiver.” After all, it is what Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer argued just last week. When Breuer testified last week, he confessed that he had learned about "gun walking" tactics as far back as April 2010, but it wasn't the Obama administration's "gun walking" that he confessed to learning about, it was a program run briefly during the Bush administration.
And on Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vermont) pushed this further by asking the Justice Department’s inspector general to include the Bush-era operation in his investigation of “Fast and Furious.”
But trying to shift blame to President Bush doesn't hold water, as the two programs were very different.
Obama's "Fast and Furious" was a gun-tracing program that didn't even try to trace guns.
In sharp contrast, Bush's “Wider Receiver” program gave direct notice to the Mexican authorities so that they could try to track the guns as they crossed the border. Bush officials might have learned that Mexican police weren't up to tracing the guns, but at least they had a plan to try to have the guns followed.
"Fast and Furious" made no such attempt to notify the Mexican authorities in any way. Worse, the Obama officials knew that they had a problem. "Fast and Furious" gave out the guns, but agents and middle level people complained to administrators that the guns weren't being traced.
Indeed, when BATF agents' warnings that the guns weren’t being tracked during the Obama administration went unheeded, in despair at least one agent went to his local Radio Shack store to try jerry-rigging a GPS tracking bug for the guns.
A widely run Associated Press story last week by Pete Yost pointed out that both the Bush and Obama programs involved "gun-walking." Yet somehow Yost managed to leave out the very central point about tracing. Other articles, such as those in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, have likewise left out this important point.
What is really missed by all this is the utter failure of gun tracing programs. The problem isn't really that the Obama administration simply screwed up the tracing plan. Few guns move from the U.S. to Mexico and just as drug cartels bring in drugs from other countries, they can bring in the weapons that they need to protect those drugs. Mexican drug cartels aren't getting their machine guns, grenades, and rocket launchers from the United States.
Why would the Obama administration not trace the guns? Why would they not inform Mexican officials about the program? One hopes that it was sheer incompetence combined with a desire to stonewall any investigation, but the fact that people knew that the guns weren’t being traced raises questions even about this plan.
The only other possibility -- deliberately increasing the number of guns sold to increase the share of crime guns in Mexico from the United States and thus generate support for more gun control -- is conceivable if only because "Fast and Furious" started at the same time that Obama began his campaign falsely claiming that most Mexican crime guns came from the United States.
We can only hope that even for the Obama administration that scenario is too cynical to be possible.
John R. Lott, Jr. is a FOXNews.com contributor. He is an economist and author of the newly revised edition of "More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010)."