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Opinion: Fast and Furious - and Eric Holder's Mistake - is Deadly Serious

Friday, June 29, 2012 - 01:04 PM

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Don't feel bad if you're only vaguely aware of what Fast and Furious was all about. As I wrote about it back in December on this site:

In case you hadn't heard, and as there is no "a Republican candidate said something stupid" angle here you probably haven't, the Obama Justice Department sold guns to Mexican drug gangs under a program called Fast and Furious. The official purpose of Fast and Furious was to allow some guns to be purchased by the gangs so that a larger sting operation could conducted. It sounds like a bad plot in a Vin Diesel movie but unfortunately this one didn't work out as well as it would in a film. These guns were used to kill scores of people in Mexico and one American border agent, Brian Terry.

I'm not going to give you the whole the-media-would-lap-up-this-scandal-if-the-president-was-Republican song and dance though it's obvious to anyone paying any attention that they would. I just want to focus on the latest spin from the media on the whole story. It had two parts. Part 1 is "who cares?" and part 2 is "let's make fun of those who do care."

Take Roger Simon from Politico. He's their Chief Political Columnist, which sounds pretty serious. So it's strange that a serious Chief Political Columnist would tweet this yesterday:

Think House GOP now sorta regrets scheduling its Holder contempt vote for today? ‪#WhoStillCares

Who still cares that the U.S. government sold guns to Mexican gangs? I care. Brian Terry's family cares. I'm sure the families of the hundreds of Mexicans who were killed with these guns care. I guess a "Chief Political Columnist" doesn't have to worry about stray bullets from these guns but those who do CARE.

The Chief Political Columnist then tweeted:

If guns don't kill people, but people kill people, why are conservatives upset over Fast & Furious

I guess in the Beltway this might be a...joke? In the rest of the country it's an eyeroll. Conservatives like legal guns, that's why they fight legislation to ban guns. Places where guns are banned, like Washington D.C. or Detroit, don't see a drop in homocides, they see a rise as illegal guns flood the cities and law-abiding people can't get guns to defend themselves. The reason conservatives have a problem with illegal guns being passed along to Mexican gangsters is that illegal guns were passed along to Mexican gangsters.

If it seems that I'm picking on Politico's Chief Political Columnist Roger Simon it's because I am. The dismissal of Fast and Furious as a joke or a minor incident or some sort of partisan vendetta is wrong and none of us should stand for it.

Eric Holder's clownish attempts to brush off the incident, such as painting it as a racist attack on him, shouldn't deter us from getting to the bottom of why our government implemented a risky program with seemingly a shrug of the shoulders and no oversight. I wouldn't be ok with a Republican administration doing something this ridiculous and you shouldn't be ok with a Democratic one.

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Comments [18]

David from New York, New York

Try not to sound TOO disappointed Brian that all these folks are going for Romney.

Nov. 06 2012 07:30 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

This is a textbook case of the Circus triumphing over the Serious...The GOP contempt citation against the AG stands and the voter is left to think 'he must have done something wrong...'

Why can't we do better than we have? Look in the mirror...

Jul. 13 2012 09:54 AM
Marcello from Brooklyn

This country's fascination with guns is one of those topics where a non-American like me is at a loss as of what to think and what to say. It is such a peculiarly American thing, so foreign to me that one tends to look at it as one of those completely weird features of other world cultures such as family-arranged teenage marriage or eating dog meat.
It is also a very powerful issues for conservatives since it represents the convergence point for three of their defining political strategies and tactics: deference to big economic interests; ideological fundamentalism and the anti-Democratic stoking of cultural issues for political gain.
The Fortune magazine article has already shed enough light on what really happened with the so-called F&F scandal.
But what I think is worth to point out is the SPECTACULARLY MONUMENTAL hypocrisy of conservatives who are now crying their crocodile tears for the tragic death of Brian Terry after having fought tooth and nail to create an environment of lax gun-control laws where, to use the words of the article: “Any 18 years old can go to any of the 853 arm dealers along the border with Mexico, buy dozens of AK-47, pay in cash and resell them immediately to another person in the dealer's parking lot.” And where “It was nearly impossible to bring a a case against a straw purchaser...Even if a suspect bought 10 guns that were recovered days later at a Mexican crime scene, since that didn't mean that the initial purchase had been illegal...”.

Jul. 06 2012 11:39 AM
The Right to Grizzly Bear Arms from NJ

Wow, that Eban article in Fortune is something else. Kind of embarrassing for the rest of the media world. She basically did proper investigative journalism, which with the exception of Frontline, has pretty much gone the way of Old Yellar due to shock journalism (and crap journalism or entertainment opinion news). What is most interesting is this: Will the revelation of dispicable Arizona gun laws, which basically feed the Cartels their daily intake of military grade assault weaponry, bring about a discussion on federal gun laws right before an election? If so, would it be political suicide for Obama who cannot act on them because of important swing states like PA, Ohio, and Florida? That was one of the most pressured points in 2008 (Obama is gonna take are guns!--never happened by the way).

Jul. 03 2012 04:49 PM

Correction: Recent article on F&F in Fortune. The reporter has been interviewed widely -- on NPR shows including BL Show this morning and On Point yesterday where the discussion included an investigative staffer from the Senate Judiciary Committee. So you can both sides here:

http://onpoint.wbur.org/2012/07/02/fast-and-furious-fortune

Jul. 03 2012 02:21 PM

I must say, this post is completely pointless. Most of it is taken up with a meaningless take down of another blogger -- whose tweet was clearly tongue in cheek. So she takes one snarky comment as the media's widespread making fun of those who care that F&F is a serious issue. Frankly, I haven't heard anyone in the media dismissing or making fun of F&F -- outrage at the partisan nature of the investigation (it did begin in the Bush Administration, after all) but not dismissing the seriousness of people being killed by illegal guns. And for logic she says: conservatives are upset with illegal guns going to Mexican gangsters because... illegal guns went to Mexican gangsters. Huh? Now, according to the recent reporting in Forbes, it turns out that the ATF did NOT sell guns to Mexican gangs. It was something quite different -- problematic and flawed but not in the way we've been told for the last year or so. I would be interested to see Ms. Markowicz's response to the new information presented in that article. Finally the AG is hardly "clownish" for characterizing the attacks as racist. Now it's my turn to say -- this is a serious issue. A Republican on the committee even said it was partly about the AG's efforts against Voter ID laws and voter purges recently enacted in various states. What a strange choice of words to describe the AG's response to the unprecedented contempt vote against him. I rarely read Ms. Markowicz's posts -- not because I disagree with her points of view but because they are so poorly reasoned. Reading this just confirmed my opinion.

Jul. 03 2012 02:14 PM
AM from Brooklyn

There's another side to this story. According to an article in Fortune
http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2012/06/27/fast-and-furious-truth/
The ATF agents tried to intercept the guns, but they were stymied by prosecutors who wouldn't let them make arrests of confiscate the guns.

Jul. 02 2012 05:08 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

@gary -
The evidence you cite makes it clear that 'gunwalking' is serious business and our government shouldn't be taking part in it. It was a mistake under Clinton. A bigger mistake under Bush. And most fouled-up in its execution under Obama.

But none of this adds up to a real threat to our democracy. ATF may have been making work for itself but nothing I've heard convinces me of any real threat to the Constitution.

A lot of reaching going on here...

Jul. 02 2012 03:56 PM
gary from queens

NEED MORE EVIDENCE?

Take, for example, the report by CBS Correspondent Sheryl Atkisson on December 7, 2011, located here:
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-57338546-10391695/documents-atf-used-fast-and-furious-to-make-the-case-for-gun-regulations/

EXCERPT 1:
[...] emails show they discussed using the sales, including sales encouraged by ATF, to justify a new gun regulation called "Demand Letter 3". That would require some U.S. gun shops to report the sale of multiple rifles or "long guns." Demand Letter 3 was so named because it would be the third ATF program demanding gun dealers report tracing information.

EXCERPT 2:
This revelation angers gun rights advocates. Larry Keane, a spokesman for National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group, calls the discussion of Fast and Furious to argue for Demand Letter 3 "disappointing and ironic." Keane says it's "deeply troubling" if sales made by gun dealers "voluntarily cooperating with ATF's flawed 'Operation Fast & Furious' were going to be used by some individuals within ATF to justify imposing a multiple sales reporting requirement for rifles."

In April, 2010 a licensed gun dealer cooperating with ATF was increasingly concerned about selling so many guns. "We just want to make sure we are cooperating with ATF and that we are not viewed as selling to the bad guys," writes the gun dealer to ATF Phoenix officials, "(W)e were hoping to put together something like a letter of understanding to alleviate concerns of some type of recourse against us down the road for selling these items."

ATF's group supervisor on Fast and Furious David Voth assures the gun dealer there's nothing to worry about. "We (ATF) are continually monitoring these suspects using a variety of investigative techniques which I cannot go into detail."

Two months later, the same gun dealer grew more agitated.

"I wanted to make sure that none of the firearms that were sold per our conversation with you and various ATF agents could or would ever end up south of the border or in the hands of the bad guys. I guess I am looking for a bit of reassurance that the guns are not getting south or in the wrong hands...I want to help ATF with its investigation but not at the risk of agents (sic) safety because I have some very close friends that are US Border Patrol agents in southern AZ as well as my concern for all the agents (sic) safety that protect our country."

"It's like ATF created or added to the problem so they could be the solution to it and pat themselves on the back," says one law enforcement source familiar with the facts. "It's a circular way of thinking."

Jul. 02 2012 02:15 AM
gary from queens

Here are the stark differences between Bush's Wide Receiver (WR) and Obama's Fast & Furious (FF):

When program was active:
WR: 2005 to 2007
FF: 2009 to 2011

Number of guns involved:
WR: 400
FF: 2,000

GUN TRACKING METHODS:

Electronic tracking
WR: RFID trackers installed in guns.
FF: No electronic tracking.

Surveillance
WR: Actively tracked by airborn surveillance.
FF: No active surveillance of any kind.

Purchases
WR: Straw purchases recorded & surveilled
FF: No recording or surveillance of straw purchasers

Further Explanation: The local ATF field agents were ordered not to follow the straw purchasers. Federal agents were not allowed to interdict the guns and they even ran interference for the smugglers with local law enforcement on multiple occasions to make sure those guns made it across the border.

When Mexico was notified:
WR: When arms were purchased & smugglers crossed border.
FF: Not told the program even existed.

Results of the operation:
WR: 1,400 felony arrests & identification of cartel operators.
FF: No arrests were made.

Reason operation was discontinued:
WR: When smugglers discovered & began disabling RFID tracking devices.
FF: Over 200 Mexicans + two US federal agents killed by the guns.

Agencies involved:
WR: DoJ and Arizona-local ATF.
FF: 4 federal agencies & 10 cities in five states.

Purpose of operation:
WR: Identify & prosecute gun smugglers & drug cartels.
FF: Build case against 2nd Amendment & American gun dealers.

Further Explanation: Following the failure of the assault weapons ban in Congress, the Administration realized that gun mayhem was necessary to outrage Americans to justify future legislative efforts. HOW DO WE KNOW THIS?

First, just ask yourself what possible reason could there be for making no attempt to trace the guns for the two years this operation was in effect? In every state and federal gun and drug sting operation since they were first tried in the US, it has always been of prime importance to trace the contraband. Tracking it, to ultimately retain possession of it, was essential for successful prosecutions, and of course to keep these dangerous items off the streets.

Jul. 02 2012 02:15 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

I'll take Kool-Aid over Pop-Rocks...

Jul. 01 2012 08:48 AM

Jack The Kool-aid Jackson,

The Bush operation was called wide receiver and it dealt with a smaller amount of guns that had TRACKING DEVICES, and the mexican government was notified. It ended in 2007 when the thugs started finding the tracking devices. In 2007. Put down Kool-aid and drink some facts.

In October of 2009 (that's after Bush left and WR had been over for TWO YEARS) the Obama admin started Fast and Furious, no tracking devices, no notification to the mexican gov't and seemingly no oversight. A border agent dead a cover-up begun and a scandal arises. Obama has now injected himself into it by claiming executive priv to protect his inept justice dept. Shameful.

Jun. 30 2012 08:20 PM
Harrison Bergeron from Fair Lawn NJ

You are right on the mark about this Carol.

Jun. 30 2012 07:42 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

"I'm not going to give you the whole the-media-would-lap-up-this-scandal-if-the-president-was-Republican song and dance"...

...but I am going to fail to mention Operation Wide Receiver in which the ATF (albeit to a smaller extent) under Bush and Mukasey did the SAME EXACT THING.

The fact that the NRA is 'scoring' this issue so that their supporters can represent themselves as 'strong' on gun rights is also not mentioned here.

The demented view that the BATF and Obama WANTED Mexican drug violence to increase in order to spark sentiment for stricter gun sale laws in the U.S.A is goofy at best....but no worse than the idea that Dubya let the WTC/Pentagon attacks proceed because he could then roll Congress into letting him invade Iraq (aka LIHOP) is equally goofy. There are plenty on each side willing to believe either premise without a shred of proof.

The ultimate question is what rational policy changes can we make in order to cut the rate of killings in Mexico? Is there a rational way to cut the profits for these drug gangs? Is there a way to end these straw purchases that don't impact Second Amendment guarantees?

The contempt citation against the AG is just theater and you know it.

Jun. 30 2012 04:51 PM
D from Bklyn

http://www.examiner.com/article/report-points-to-clinton-era-gunwalking
This tactic goes further back to the Clinton Administration

Jun. 30 2012 02:27 PM
Gary from Brooklyn

Wow!!!.. Mr. Tom Elliott from Washington DC has a real scoop!! Apparently it was only George Bush who was legitimately trying to make Fast and Furious a police operation. President Obama instead was "intentionally selling guns to Mexican gangs and then loosing track of them" so that when they would be used for crimes they could...what?...trigger a reaction from the public conducive to more gun controls? That's revelatory!! Great job Mr. Elliott! Of course it would have been even greater if you could have pointed out to a shred of evidence for your thesis; you see, when you submit EVIDENCE for something you write that something could be legitimately called information. If not, it's only your invention or somebody else's invention that you are parroting or, in the best case scenario, an OPINION.

Here is an excerpt from the NYT reported verbatim: "Operation Fast and Furious was conducted from late 2009 to early 2011 by Phoenix-based agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who were looking into a gun-smuggling network linked to a Mexican drug cartel.
Suspected “straw” purchasers for the network ended up acquiring about 2,000 guns, most of which are presumed to have reached drug gangs. In December 2010, two weapons that had been bought by one of the suspects were found at the site of a shootout in which a Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed, setting off the scandal.
Some Republicans and conservative commentators have claimed that senior Obama administration officials must have initiated or authorized the tactics. But public testimony and documents have not produced evidence to support such claims. Information has emerged, however, showing that the Phoenix division of the A.T.F. had a running dispute with Arizona-based prosecutors over how much evidence was necessary to bring charges in straw-purchasing cases, and that its agents had used similar tactics — and lost track of guns — in three other investigations, during the Bush administration."

Jun. 30 2012 09:51 AM
TomElliott from Washington, DC

Fast & Furious is actually worse than you describe. They weren't trying to go after higher ups in Mexican drug cartels. That's what the predecessor program tried doing. The Obama administration intentionally lost track of the guns and then waited to see where they would turn up. Afterward they could say, "Hey, look at all of these American guns turning up at drug cartel shootings! We better do something about this." Once the heat started coming down, they prosecuted one of the straw purchasers in a lame attempt at showing there was some kind of legit law enforcement purpose to the program. There was none. Only political ones.

Jun. 29 2012 02:32 PM
John W from San Diego, CA

Karol hit is out of the park. The media that has covered this has failed to include the horrific toll this has taken on our Mexican neighbors. I greave for Mr. Terry and his family. I also greave for the Mexican mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters... families that have lost loved ones to a baffoonish attempt to sway voters to support gun control in the U.S. The ultimate question is: What is the Attorney General hiding? Is the President covering his six or the AG? What other reason would Executive Privilege be asserted? Everyone, Americans, Mexicans, and everyone around the world should want to know the answers. Who are we dealing with in the White House?

Jun. 29 2012 02:13 PM

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