Fast and furiously, the GOP hunts Holder

Posted: June 23, 2012

It would be reassuring to think all the attention being paid to a botched federal gun-trafficking program called "Operation Fast and Furious" was about Brian Terry, the U.S. Border Patrol agent whose death is inextricably linked to that debacle.

Many a fine speech has been made in recent weeks in which Terry's name has been invoked. But in a Congress that can't agree on the time of day without consulting partisan timepieces, the rhetoric has more to do with presidential politics than the slain officer.

The lamentable bare-bones facts of this story appear indisputable. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Exposives allowed thousands of assault weapons to cross into Mexico so it could follow them and find out who was running drug cartels.

The ATF reportedly tried the same tactic three times during the Bush administration. It also lost track of some weapons then, but not as many as with Fast and Furious. And none of those guns were used to murder a Border Patrol agent. That would be Terry, who was gunned down in 2010.

Republicans have been trying to see how far up into the White House they can pin responsibility for Terry's death. They got the Justice Department to admit a Feb. 4, 2011, letter in which it told Congress that the ATF had not purposely let guns fall into the hands of druglords was false.

That was like blood hitting the water near sharks. Denied certain documents he says he needs to trace the extent of culpability in Fast and Furious, Senate Government Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) wants Attorney General Eric Holder held in contempt of Congress.

Issa says all he wants is the truth. But what he really covets is President Obama's hide. The Justice Department has already given Issa more than 7,600 documents, and Holder has agreed to negotiate the release of more. If all he wanted to do was acknowledge the failure of the U.S. government to protect a civil servant who died in the line of duty, Issa would accept Holder's offer.

But his goal is political. He is counting it as a victory that he has goaded Obama into invoking "executive privilege" to keep documentation of internal White House discussions secret. He sees it as a win in a presidential election year to get Obama to use the same legal tool as the impeached Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. So, score one for the GOP election machine. As for Brian Terry, his memory is being used.

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