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Holder contempt citation -- just remember that people died because of 'Fast and Furious'

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Feb. 2, 2012: Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

People died.  It is something to remember during today’s historic House vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. Never before has a sitting attorney general been held in contempt.  

With all the hoopla over past scandals from Watergate to Filegate to Pardongate, the cover up was always worse than the crime.  Yet, in "Fast and Furious," the guns that the US government supplied to Mexican drug gangs have been used to kill one American border agent and over 300 Mexican citizens and commit numerous other crimes.

To date, because of administration stonewalling, we don't have answers to the most basic questions.  Why would the Obama administration give drug gangs guns without trying to trace them? Why not inform Mexican officials about the program so that the Mexicans could try tracing the guns on the Mexican side of the border? Why start pushing untraceable guns to Mexico at the same time that the Obama administration was making their wildly false claim that 90 percent of crime guns in Mexico were from the US?

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 explanation.  It raises the possibility that the guns were being sent to Mexico as part of a plan to push for more gun control.

The battle over today's House vote comes down to 1,300 documents that Holder refuses to turn over to Congress. 

After oft repeated claims that Holder and other senior Obama appointees in the Department of Justice knew nothing about the "Fast and Furious" gunrunning program, a whistleblower finally provided internal e-mails.  Those e-mails showed that, at the very least, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General and the chief of the Justice Department's Organized Crime and Gang Section knew that guns were being supplied to the drug gangs even before US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed.  The documents Congress wants deal specifically with those conversations.

Yet, Democrats seem to think that today's vote is about everything other than finding out why untraced guns were being sent to Mexico.  

-- Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi claims that the investigation is really an attempt to keep Holder from stopping Republicans from using Photo IDs to suppress voter turnout.  Yet, Congress started investigating "Fast and Furious" in January 2011 before the latest round of states started passing Photo ID requirements.

-- Eric Holder and others have claimed that the attacks on him are on account of his race.  Last December, Holder told the New York Times: "This is a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him, both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we're both African-American."

-- Holder’s supporters have also claimed that the program was started under the Bush administration and that he should get the credit for stopping it.  Yet, even Holder has had to concede that “Fast and Furious” and the Bush administration’s "Wide Receiver" were quite different. 

"Wide Receiver" tried to track the guns and the Bush administration notified the Mexican government to trace the guns on the Mexican side of the border.  Of course, the tracing didn't work, but the solution was to realize the problems with tracing guns, not to simply give the guns to drug gangs and not try to trace them.

-- Finally, Fox News political analyst Juan Williams is claiming that the attacks on Holder are all about unjustified fears that the Obama administration is pushing gun control.  It doesn’t help that Sharyl Atkisson of CBS News found Justice Department e-mails discussing how their covert operation “Fast and Furious” could be used to push for controversial new rules on gun sales.  

Nor are the fears about Obama’s push for gun control unjustified. Before he became president, Obama has a long history advocating gun bans, and, just last year, he promised the Brady Campaign that he was working “under the radar” for gun control (a list of gun control efforts during his administration can be found here). 

But, whatever excuses are offered, the ultimate point is that Attorney General Holder won't supply even the most basic information.  Despite extreme political pressure, twenty or so Democrats might end up supporting the contempt vote.  These fellow Democrat’s statements show that Holder’s contempt vote isn’t just “hollow political theater” or “wasting time on petty politics.”

Georgia Democrat Rep. John Barrow released a statement yesterday: "the Attorney General has decided to withhold relevant documents. The only way to get to the bottom of what happened is for the Department of Justice to turn over the remaining documents, so that we can work together to ensure this tragedy never happens again."

Utah Democrat Rep. Jim Matheson (UT) also explained why he will vote for contempt: "The Terry family, the public and Congress deserve answers.  Sadly, it seems that it will take holding the Attorney General in contempt to communicate that evasiveness is unacceptable."

One point needs to be made clear.  Even if "Fast and Furious" had never existed, it is extremely likely that agent Brian Terry and all those Mexicans still would have been murdered. 

 Even if guns completely disappeared from the US, Mexican drug gangs would still get a hold of guns. Few guns move from the US 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 gun dealers.

On the other hand, it is still a crime to knowingly sell a gun to someone who is going to use it in a crime.  The Obama administration strongly supports this law, and they do enforce it against others.

Obama promised that his administration would be “the most open and transparent in history.”  Possibly, once we know who started this program, questions about why it was set up can finally be answered.  At this point, let’s just hope that they can be more open and transparent than the Nixon administration.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a FoxNews.com contributor. He is an economist and co-author of the just released “Debacle: Obama's War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future” (John Wiley & Sons, March 2012).

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.