Will Attorney General Eric Holder be held in contempt Congress? It's a question that could be answered this week as lawmakers consider what would be just the fourth contempt action against a member of the executive branch in the last thirty years. Janet Reno was the last attorney general to hold such a dubious distinction.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, is finally losing his patience with Holder. The committee has subpoenaed documents related to the "gun-walking" scandal Operation Fast and Furious. The Justice Department has not forked them over or even bothered to invoke a legal argument for why they don't have to.
Issa originally scheduled a contempt vote at the committee level for Wednesday, but signaled late last week he would be willing to give Holder a reprieve in exchange for internal documents the attorney general finally seems willing to part with concerning a Justice Department statement to Congress on the scandal that was false and had to be withdrawn.
Holder generously allowed that the "department is prepared to provide documents that, while outside the scope of the committee’s interest in the inappropriate tactics used in Fast and Furious, are responsive to how the department’s understanding of the facts regarding that matter evolved throughout 2011 and how the department came to withdraw its February 4, 2011 letter to Senator Grassley."
Whether the vote takes place as scheduled or is postponed, it remains unclear whether this will shine a brighter media spotlight on the Fast and Furious fiasco. Under this now-canceled offshoot of Project Gunrunner, federal agents were ordered to allow illegal gun buyers to transport weapons to Mexico. The argument was that this would lead the government to the cartels. Instead the guns didn't turn up until they were used in crimes, including the murder of at least one border patrol agent and an untold number of Mexican citizens.
Fast and Furious sounds like something out of a movie, and most of the media seems unwilling to pull the scandal into the realm of nonfiction. One exception to this general rule in Katie Pavlich, a young Townhall reporter who wrote the book Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and the Shameless Cover-Up. She doesn't miss a beat when asked why so few journalists cover the story.
"It would complicate Obama's reelection campaign," Pavlich says. "Most of the media doesn't want to tell a story that makes him look bad in an election year so they have been complicit in this cover-up." She contends that the loss of life makes this far worse than Iran-Contra or Watergate, both of which were media obsessions.
But like Watergate, a key question is what did senior officials know and when did they know it. Issa sent Holder a letter about six Fast and Furious wiretap applications from 2010 that were approved by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein. Despite the date on the applications, Holder and Breuer have maintained that they didn't know about Fast and Furious until sometime in early 2011 -- after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was slain.
Holder repeated those assertions in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. “Fast and Furious was a mid-level, regional investigation,” the attorney general maintained. "Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Breuer did not know about the tactics being used in Fast and Furious until the beginning of last year.”
Highly unlikely, says Pavlich, who notes that "in order to apply for and have a wiretap approved, agents must submit extremely detailed information about a case." In her telling, Holder and other Justice Department officials are stonewalling to protect their political hides.
Pavlich doesn't even buy the notion that Fast and Furious was merely a botched investigation. She contends that the "emails, documents, and interviews" prove that the Obama administration sought all along to blame American gun dealers for escalating violence in Mexico, with the goal of rebuilding political support for gun control and the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. In her book, she shows that many of the political appointees close the story haven't exactly been friendly to the Second Amendment.
One of the rare mainstream media reports on Fast and Furious backs this up: "Documents obtained by CBS News show that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) discussed using their covert operation 'Fast and Furious' to argue for controversial new rules about gun sales." And congressional Democrats seldom let an opportunity pass to talk about gun control during committee hearings about the scandal.
Katie Pavlich has written the book on Fast and Furious. Darrell Issa might be getting ready to throw it at Eric Holder.