With the House committee voting Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, the stalemate between the Obama administration and Congress ultimately boils down to about 1,300 documents.
Congress wants to know who prepared a February 4, 2011 letter where the Obama administration claimed that the U.S. did not knowingly help smuggle guns to Mexico (so-called “gun walking”), including the gun used to kill US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
The Obama administration admits the letter was in error, but they have always maintained that the knowledge of these tactics did not reach the top political appointees in the Obama Department of Justice.
After a year-and-a-half, the dam broke when a mole in the Justice Department gave the House Oversight committee a set of wiretap applications proving that high department officials knew about the administration's efforts to aid the gun smuggling. The leaked documents destroyed much of Attorney General Eric Holder's credibility since he had claimed that they were not relevant to the case and refused to release them.
Holder exacerbated this mistrust when he testified before the House in early June. Holder simply tried to run out the clock by either repeating the questions that he was being asked or saying over and over again that there was nothing being hidden. After all, he noted that 7,600 documents had already been turned over to the committee.
In return, the Republicans pointed out that he wasn’t answering their questions and that these documents were just a fraction of the 140,000 that they had asked for.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-Utah) questioning of Holder gives an example of the extremes that Holder was willing to go. After Holder reiterated that senior political appointees at Justice hadn’t seen the wiretap applications, Chaffetz read one of the email exchanges the mole had leaked. The emails were between Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein and James Trusty, the chief of Justice’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, dated October 17, 2010. All this was well before the February 4, 2011 letter denying any “gun walking.”
Weinstein: “Do you think we should have Lanny participate in press when Fast and Furious and Laura’s Tucson case [Wide Receiver] are unsealed? It’s a tricky case, given the number of guns that have walked, but it is a significant set of prosecutions.” Trusty wrote back: “I think so, but the timing will be tricky, too. Looks like we’ll be able to unseal the Tucson case sooner than the Fast and Furious (although this may be just the difference between Nov. and Dec). . . . It’s not any big surprise that a bunch of US guns are being used in MX [Mexico], so I’m not sure how much grief we get for ‘guns walking.’”
Holder’s response? “The e-mail that you just read, and this is important, that e-mail referred to Wide Receiver, it did not refer to Fast and Furious,” Holder claimed. Holder dug in his heals and kept asserting that the e-mails referred to Wide Receiver (which was true), but it also referred to Fast and Furious, which Holder kept denying.
All this came to a head TuesdaY night. Congressman Darrell Issa had dramatically pared back his earlier requests to just 1,300 documents, focusing on just the February 4, 2011 letter. But Holder instead offered a briefing where Congress would again be told that top officials were out of the loop and some documents that Holder thought were relevant for Congress to see. In return, Holder demanded a promise that Congress would shutdown its investigation into Fast and Furious.
So much for President Obama's promise that his administration would be “the most open and transparent in history.”
It is little wonder that this week the union for 17,000 border patrol agents, the same union that represented Brian Terry, announced that they had lost faith in Holder and demanded that he resign. The agents joined a long list of others who have already called for Holder's resignation: 129 members of the House, five US Senators, two sitting governors, Mitt Romney, and the NRA.
It is understandable why Holder wants to deny that senior political appointees in his administration knew about the gun smuggling. American gun dealers were forced by the federal government to make gun sales that they thought were going to Mexican drug gangs.
Worse, despite desperate pleas from government agents, the Obama administration refused to trace the guns being given to these gangs.
Nor has the Obama administration ever offered a plausible justification for why anyone would have started a program to push untraceable guns into Mexico.
Instead, Sharyl Attkisson of CBS News found Justice Department emails discussing how their covert operation “Fast and Furious” could be used to push for controversial new rules on gun sales.
And the Obama administration wonders why people question the Justice Department’s commitment to thoroughly investigate recent national security leaks.
President Obama may want this scandal to disappear, but supplying guns to Mexican drug gangs that are then used in crimes is itself a crime. Supplying the guns as a way to push for gun control should be a crime. But, with the Congressional vote today to hold Eric Holder in contempt, the a year-and-a-half of stonewalling is coming to an end.
John R. Lott, Jr. is a FoxNews.com contributor. He is an economist and co-author of "Debacle: Obama's War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future."
John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.