They corrupt up so fast, don’t they?

They corrupt up so fast, don’t they?
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For a while, it seemed as if President Obama was going to survive the entirety of his first (and possibly only) term without a major scandal. In contrast to George W. Bush, and especially to Bill Clinton, the largest controversies to arise from this particular administration were unusually notable for either being imaginary (in the form of birther or socialist conspiracy theories), ideological (as in the case of Obamacare), or simply practical (in regards to his recession-busting economic program, or lack thereof), but never ethical, moral, or legal.

Until now!

With only six months left in term number one, the so-called “Fast and Furious” scandal has narrowly managed to squeak its way into the Obama legacy. This week alone saw the President’s attorney general declared in contempt of Congress and the President himself evoke “executive privilege” in order to suppress the release of possibly incriminating documents — two of the most standard tropes of any major White House scandal. All that’s missing now is the “gate” suffix.

Fast and Furious actually traces its roots back to the Justice Department of the Bush administration, though one of the major controversies of the whole story is who actually dreamed the whole thing up. We do know that in 2006 Justice experimented with a program of suspending its traditional policy of apprehending criminals who illegally purchase guns, in favour of quietly stepping back and watching what those criminals proceeded to do next. The logic — quite standard in police work — was that it’s sometimes more useful, from a criminal justice perspective, to let large-scale criminal activity naturally unfold under carefully controlled supervision, rather than preemptively nip its smallest manifestation in the bud. Fight the cause, not the symptom, etc.

In particular, illegally-purchased firearms are often an indication of gun-running, and effectively fighting gun-running requires fighting the demand, as well as the supply. Following the initial buyers around and seeing if someone different winds up with “their” guns is  a good way to do this, and though the Bush-era gun-tracking program doesn’t seem to have accomplished much of consequence, someone in the Obama Justice Department evidently felt it was an idea that deserved a second chance.

From 2009 to 2011, Justice, via its subordinate ministry, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, knowingly permitted some 2,000 guns to be illegally sold to 20 Arizonan men with criminal backgrounds, on the theory that many of them were gun-runners who would eventually haul their goods to Mexican gangs — with ATF officials secretly following close behind.

In practice, alas, things didn’t go nearly so spy novel-y. ATF promptly lost track of about 85% of the guns, and though they did wind up in the hands of Mexican gangsters, no one was around to actually prevent them from being used. Many were only eventually relocated at crime scenes, such as the assassination of the brother of a high-ranking Mexican politician, or, most notoriously, the murder of a U.S. border patrol agent. In all, Mexican authorities have thrown around numbers as high as 300 for the total tally of Mexicans killed by wandering F&F weapons.

For at least a year, details of this monstrously botched program have dripped out, and in August of 2011 the head of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms resigned on principle, despite denying any direct involvement. This has obviously begged the question of who  actually was running the thing, with many Republican politicians arguing that Attorney General Eric Holder should bear some responsibility as the most supreme buck-stopper of the entire Justice Department. Holder, for his part, has mostly clung to a “I’m as surprised as you are!” narrative, and claims he only became aware of Fast and Furious in spring of 2011 — not much earlier than the rest of us.

In March of 2011, Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee began a formal investigation of Fast and Furious (complete with its own snazzy website and social media accounts) and interviewed Holder and many other Justice Department officials. Issa demanded a complete turnover of all relevant Justice documents relating to F&F, which Holder only partially agreed to. After eight month of delays, Issa said any further stalling would result in a contempt vote, and on Wednesday that’s just what happened, with the HOGR committee voting 23-17 — along party lines — to censure the Attorney General.

That very morning, just hours before the vote itself, President Obama stepped in with a claim that Holder was actually not obligated to provide all the F&F documents because of “executive privilege,” a hazy constitutional concept that argues the independence of the executive branch of government means that agents of the president don’t have to fully collaborate with the legislature in certain circumstances. Usually, as many executive privilege FAQs have since reminded us, this power is only evoked in circumstances where the President himself is a relevant player, and is making sensitive, high-level executive-power decisions regarding things which are entirely outside of Congress’ mandate to meddle in.

This muddies the water terribly, of course, because until now, the argument had been that Holder (let alone Obama) had no knowledge and exerted no supervision or direction over Fast and Furious. Even most Republicans had more or less conceded that point, since Issa’s investigation had turned up no evidence suggesting otherwise. Suddenly insisting executive privilege as a means to suppress documents, however, seems to imply a desire to avoid self-incrimination at the highest level — either in terms of “who knew what,” or some larger cover-up.

Democrats have not really had a good rebuttal to any of this. Nancy Pelosi has been waging a rather pathetic campaign to change the topic entirely, while other congresspeople have simply characterized the whole thing as a partisan witch hunt designed to embarrass the President in the midst of his re-election.

Well, duh. But the mere existence of partisanship does not presume a lack of importance to whatever cause it’s animating. Just as an apparent presidential cover-up does not necessarily presume executive branch guilt at the highest levels.

We know why Republicans would be keen to expose White House culpability in a criminally negligent gun-running scandal. We don’t know why President Obama isn’t equally keen to absolve himself and his Attorney General from the appearance of incompetence, deception, or both.

And if we don’t soon, a once-remarkable president will only deepen his cynical descent into the realm of the ordinary.




^ 45 Comments...

  1. Rasden

    Fuck Obama and Fuck Holder . They did this in attempt to pass new regulation on American gun rights . FUCK HIM

  2. ThePsudo

    Can you back up that claim?

  3. Rasden

    The only reason to walk the guns south was to take pass no unreasonable restrictions in the north . The only solution to Mexico is military annexation and occupation

  4. ThePsudo

    My understanding is that the ATF agents in charge of the mission were not clear about how very short was the battery life of their tracking devices, and that undermined the execution of their entire sting operation. Unless Holder intentionally misinformed the ATF agents about tracking device battery life (and why would he know?), I'm thinking the executive privilege is to protect ATF agents currently trying to fix the damage of the failed operation.

    Apart from screwing up the execution, it is another example of the Obama administration completely imitating the Bush administration's methods, but with more popular support because they're Democrats and Democrats Care ™.

    Reminds me of a quote. "The Democrats seem to be basically nicer people, but they have demonstrated time and again that they have the management skills of celery. They're the kind of people who'd stop to help you change a flat, but would somehow manage to set your car on fire. I would be reluctant to entrust them with a Cuisinart, let alone the economy. The Republicans, on the other hand, would know how to fix your tire, but they wouldn't bother to stop because they'd want to be on time for Ugly Pants Night at the country club." — Dave Barry

  5. Jericho941

    The ATF did not employ tracking devices in F&F.

  6. Harry Gale

    That's impressive. Have you noticed that the Mexican people are just as entitled to live in their own country with their own government and culture as Americans are? You are presenting a drastic and permanent solution to a very temporary problem. Yes, indeed, the Fast and Furious Operation was a mistake, but it is just an example of the Obama administration making a Bush mistake. I'm sure you were not aware that Bush invoked executive privilege six times during his presidency and this is the first time Obama has ever done so in his presidency. I have seen a ridiculous amount of exaggeration and hyperbole (especially from the extreme right), and conservatives are so overly concerned with their gun rights (which President Obama has never challenged) that they are over looking the real problems (like trying to fix the mistake and moving on to bigger and better projects). I don't agree with all of Holder's policies, but he is trying to do his job and protect the ATF. You must respect the office of the Presidency and the Attorney General, even if you don't like the people in them. I understand people who are warmongers enjoy perpetuating hyperbole and invoking war under unnecessary conditions, but that's also how we got stuck in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. If the two parties would be willing to work together (which as long as a Democrat is president, the Republicans will refuse), they might work together to find a reasonable, peaceful and effective solution to the problem. However, I can guarantee you it will not be through exaggeration, hyperbole, or outburst from the tragically misinformed.

  7. Colin Minich

    I'm going to back up Psudo here and ask for some verifiable evidence to that. I live in the US and haven't seen a shred of extra regulation on this matter.

  8. Dan

    The real question is: How long until Anonymous or WikiLeaks just make the information public anyway?

    Assuming that they aren't all just a bunch of hypocrites and won't just as soon let Obama slide on this, of course.

  9. Gray

    First of all, preemptive deep breath.

    A bit calmer? Good. Now, on the story itself…

    In general, I'm inclined to assume incompetence rather than malice here (there's a rule from somewhere that you should never assume malice where incompetence/stupidity will suffice). This administration seems to be inclined to leak confidential information if it helps their image, so going to great lengths to suppress information on a scandal doesn't seem to be a stretch.

    Frankly, the worst part for the administration is that by dragging this out and triggering a court fight, they've ensured that this will be in the press for most of the summer. Again, I don't necessarily think it is some coverup of a false flag operation…as I said, I think they're afraid of looking like idiots for mismanaging this operation…but I will concede that they're doing a wonderful job of making everyone wonder what they're hiding by dragging things out like this where a simple document dump and a few resignations/firings would have probably brushed this aside long ago.

    There's an old saying that it's not the crime that gets you in trouble, it's the coverup. That certainly seems to be the case here.

  10. SES

    Yeah, I'm surprised nobody has been thrown under the bus yet. Shirley Sherrod was fired within hours of the edited video going online, but the administration couldn't find a sacrificial lamb anywhere this time?

  11. @SideshowJon36

    What edit? The video was released in it's entirety. She admitted to discriminating against Whites, IN CONTEXT.

    She admitted what she did was wrong in the speech, but the point was that the NAACP audience whooped it up and cheered before she added that addendum.

  12. @SideshowJon36

    Obama had scandals from the beginning (Fast/Furious is 18 months old at least), but the media refused to cover them.

  13. Colin Minich

    Sadly Obama has spiraled downward into that cynical descent the day he took office and got the big reality check from his staff, the military, and his friends. A pragmatic man came in hoping to get things going but instead could only put on a show.

    Now as for this…this is shocking to me actually, especially given the mess the border situation has been and the violence in Mexico that makes a day in 2006 Iraq look like Macy's Parade. This wasn't any particular case of spite or malevolence towards innocents or opponents but rather horrid negligence. Pelosi's desperation to avoid the subject makes me sick however. This is a party keen on keeping the blame on Bush for a lot of the economic woes (which he was) but dare not show the accountability required in this mess. Obama has to start smooth-talking and looking humble human lest he looks the more detestable look of complacency.

  14. @SideshowJon36

    If he were pragmatic, he'd have gotten things done while his party controlled Congress, rather than passing a health care bill which both parties hated and which violated the Constitution

  15. Colin Minich

    I'll admit to some spineless posturing from Pelosi and crew, but we're dealing with the Party of No.

    Violated the Constitution? Where in the Constitution did health care come into play?

  16. Dan

    The Constitution does not grant the federal government the power to compel someone to buy a private product or service, such as health insurance.

  17. Jon Bennett

    In that the Constitution specifically enumerates what the Fed is allowed to do, if Health Care doesn't come into play in the Constitution, the Feds have no right to regulate it.

  18. @Cristiona

    At the time, the Democrats had a sizable majority in the House, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and the sitting president. How, exactly, did the Republicans' views on anything matter?

  19. SES

    The "filibuster-proof majority" was never much of a reality. That's not to say that everything can be blamed on the Republicans, of course, but there were only 58 Democrats in the Senate at the party's height during that Congress. Even if you include the two non-Democrats who caucused with the party (one of whom had actively campaigned against Barack Obama in 2008), the "filibuster-proof majority" only existed from July of 2009 (when Al Franken was finally sworn in) until January of 2010 (when Scott Brown was elected), and for the first two months it included the gravely ill Ted Kennedy.

  20. Dan

    So… why was my comment deleted?

  21. Alejandro Renteria

    As to the first post Obama has actually expanded gun rights too all Americans by allowing citizens to carry firearms on American national parks for self defense. Though in fairness it would be easy to try to tie the gun restrictions to the executive office, think Clinton's "temporary" Assault Weapons Ban or Bush's sweeping homeland security overreach (terror watch, no fly lists, the NSA domestic surveillance programs.

    As for the three greatest constitutional scandals that were implemented under both the Obama and Bush administrations the biggest were in order…

    1. The unregulated, monitored, or supervised actions undertaken by the major banks fallowing the Department of the Treasury's Quantitative easing program and the moral hazards associated with the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). Who was loaned money?, how did they spend it?, did they spend it?, and did they even need the money to begin with?

    2. The establishment of permanent, domestically deploy-able military brigades (roughly 3-30,000 soldiers strong) which are exempt from the Posse Comitatus Act, the Militia Act of 1903, and Perpich v. Department of Defense decision (1990) as a result of the latest clauses included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011. Basically it undoes every restriction of federal use of military on domestic soil passed since reconstruction.

    3. The use of extensions and continuing resolutions to allow the federal government (congress) to bypass Sections 6,7, and 8 of the United States Constitution. For example one of the Enumerated powers of Congress is the ability to raise an army, but said army may not be funded more than two years without a new act. But as a result of continuing resolutions Congress has avoided reviewing the defense department budget. Furthermore the military has grown accustomed, and are using the political atmosphere to their advantage by ignoring congressional inquiry's into their procurement programs. The Navy for example only submitted their expected shipbuilding program for the next 20 years three days prior to the vote of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011. Thus the members of Congress were forced to either vote for or against a procurement plan covering 30,000 different contractors, close to a trillion dollars of tax dollars, and the future of this country's national security based on wither or not Admiral Gary Roughead submitted a budget that was in the best interest of the United States 10 years from now.

  22. Ben

    This really won't change anything. Those that like Obama still will. Those that don't really care still won't care, and those that hate and despise the man will still hate and despise the man.

    I'd almost say the Republicans had an upper hand here till they went loon and dropped a conspiracy bomb that lit up the nutters.

    In the end it won't do anything, really.
    In the long term it'll be looked at like Clinton's BJ. Some will say "so what" while others call him the antichrist

  23. Guest

    Obama's biggest liability was the idea of Obama
    He managed to be so many things to so many people that they gave the guy the Nobel Peace Prize before he had even done anything.
    In spite of this collective good-will he has mostly continued down the same path that George W got crucified for. Yes, he's probably cooler and smoother and certainly more suave and clever than George W but the only major difference (healthcare) is unlikely to last.
    As for this scandal – I agree that following the guns made good law-enforcement sense. Losing them, however, just triggered an inevitable disaster.

  24. Rasden

    Obama is a fucking druggie and should be thrown out . He admitted to smokeing weed and a little blow . HE is a disgrace to the office moreso then that texan idiot last time . Only new England born should have the right to lead

  25. ThePsudo

    Rasden, you're an idiot.

  26. JonasB

    I'm a bit confused about the executiuve privelige/Holder thing. My understanding is that the documents Congress wants in this case are those relating to how the Justice department came up with its response to earlier inquiries. Obama is claiming executive privelige on the grounds that having to disclose how responses are formed will interfere with future relations with Congress (i.e: it's hard to plan what to say when the audience is staring over your shoulder). Executive privelige can be overruled, as is my understanding, if the information in question is integral to the requesting branch's duties. Since what Congress is asking for does not fall under this realm, the claim of executive privelige holds.

    TL/DR: What Obama is saying by invoking executive privelige is "You can judge what we say, but you can't eavesdrop on how we plan out what we say."

  27. Dan

    I'm just uncomfortable with the very idea of the President keeping anything that isn't of immediate security importance confidential. Anyone should be able to see those sorts of documents.

  28. .aw@

    I think my understanding is that you lay out the executive's view of the case succinctly. From the perspective of the House of Representatives, someone has clearly been negligent here, and they are trying to find out who. They have therefore requested internal documents to determine who is responsible for this disaster. In short, they wish to see the internal communications not to see how responses are formed but to find out who was responsible for sending out guns without any effective tracking. They are also looking for motive in launching the operation….basically to confirm that it really was a sting operation that just went horribly wrong. Therefore, the information is necessary to proceeding with the investigation and should override executive privilege.

    You laid out the President's argument, I believe I laid out Congress's. How will a court rule? Your guess is as good as mine.

  29. JonasB

    Didn't someone testify the first time this story broke saying that the reason they lost track was because something went wrong with the GPS transponders? I recall someone saying it had to do with either effective range or battery life being shorter than was expected.

  30. @Cristiona

    Claiming executive privilege was a misstep. For over a year, Obama and Holder have sworn up and down that they weren't personally involved in this program and had no knowledge of it. By claiming executive privilege over this, Obama is either admitting that A) he lied about his involvement, or B) he has no idea of the limitations of executive privilege. Or, I suppose, C) he doesn't care about said limits and is going to do whatever he wants.

    I don't see this use being upheld. Congress is attempting to perform its Constitutionally mandated duties and is being blocked and stonewalled by a Justice Department that doesn't even want to respond, let alone cooperate. Add in all the flailing excuses that have been offered as to why only 7k documents out of a requested 150-200k (many of which were so redacted that they were, literally, a black piece of paper) and this is turning into a gigantic mess.

    Of course, other defenses such as citing the number of times Bush used executive privilege is just political pandering and tu quoque evading and not worth even talking about.

  31. Jericho941

    As obvious a troll that Rasden is, crediting Obama with that is hardly worthwhile.

  32. Jake_Ackers

    What about the national security leaks from the White House? Those are ten time worst. Everyone knows the leaks were done just to make Obama look good but it has put the country at great risk.

  33. Colin Minich

    In case you hadn't noticed, there are a lot of things politicians like to do to enhance their own image but put the nation at risk. I do wonder if foresight ever goes through their heads. Actually…let me rephrase that…foresight of the general welfare that goes through their heads.

  34. Jake_Ackers

    True but the same can be said of Watergate. This is even worst. It's national security that can put people's lives at risk. It can also cause our allies to not be willing to work with us anymore. Either way, its wrong (and worst) even if others do it. All cases should be taken seriously.

  35. Jericho941

    Can put people's lives at risk, yes.

    Fast & Furious already has a body count. A fairly high one.

  36. Colin Minich

    Oh by no means am I going to get relative on the matter. This was a screw up and those haphazard (spelling?) leaks were too. As a matter of fact I do believe it did alienate Pakistan but then again Pakistan wasn't much of an ally to begin with seeing how they (ISI and government) likely knew OBL was in Abbotabad and sheltered him before the US got tired of it and took action. Also, cat's outta the bag with the Iranian program. I mean…come on. You're right. It gives some people some serious ammunition, even trolls like Hugo Chavez.

    Obama however acted likely on this mounting criticism the GOP has (and unfortunately convinces others with) about his "weakness" on foreign policy. Well…pride's a funny thing.

  37. Person #929384-2

    I’m honestly surprised how little media attention this has received outside Fox News and the WSJ.

  38. JonasB

    I was actually aware of the Fast/Furious program (and its botchedness) about half a month before the news shows broadcast it. It was on Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird.

  39. Colin Minich

    So true…and you'd think that Fox News would do anything in its power to jump on Obama and slam the "liberals" time and time again. The WSJ? I'm not as surprised with that considering how the WSJ gets shaky in reporting on stories truly worth it but instead leaving it in a small blurb as the Eurozone crisis would take over the front page. I wish I had a better answer for the WSJ.

  40. Jericho941

    "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."
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-57338546-10

  41. ThePsudo

    They "discussed using." They did not "plan to fail with the intent of using."

  42. Jericho941

    No, but they were repeating something that hadn't worked before. They were doing something so incredibly stupid the Bush Administration, famous for beating stupid idea horses well past their expiration date, thought it was too stupid to keep trying in the form of Wide Receiver. And that was with coordination with Mexican authorities.

    Fast & Furious took the brilliant approach of keeping the Mexican government in the dark, thereby ensuring that they would, of course, "lose track" of the guns just after they crossed the border.

    If they didn't plan to fail, they made a mistake really, really hard.

  43. Benjamin Allen Whetham

    Exactly. Operation Wide Receiver was a new idea that had not been tried before. There were also several important differences.

    The officers tried to physically track the weapons with tracking devices. (That the runners circumvented via various means.)
    They worked with Mexican officials.
    They abandoned the program as soon as they realized that 200 guns had been lost and no significant intelligence gathered.

    Come a few years later and someone comes across this idea that had been tried and didn't work and decided to try it again, except dumber.

  44. Sam

    The thing is, the Department of Justice is part of the Executive Branch. Darrell Issa is claiming that the Legislative Branch, which he is a part of, has jurisdiction somehow over the DOJ. (It doesn't. Congress's only power over the Executive Branch is impeachment. Checks and balances stuff from high school.)

    Obama and Holder aren't having any of this and are using "executive privilege" to tell him to sod off.

    Congress CAN pass laws requiring the DOJ to turn over its documents (thus overriding executive privilege) but only for a good reason. Issa doesn't really have a good reason other than "make Obama look bad" so he's basically grandstanding right now.

  45. Benjamin Allen Whetham

    How about a dead border patrol agent and several hundred dead Mexican citizens. Is that a good enough reason to find out WTH was going on.

    If Obama really did know nothing of the operation, then executive privilege would not apply. By invoking executive privilege, Obama is implicitly admitting that he knew about the program in some form.