Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been targeting the Obama administration since his earliest days as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and recently he’s been waging a political witch hunt against Attorney General Eric Holder surrounding the Fast and Furious gunrunning operation. In the course of the investigation, Rep. Issa requested documents which the AG was prohibited by law from releasing, and for that, Rep. Issa successfully campaigned to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an ethics complaint with both the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Department of Justice, alleging that in his zeal to embarrass the Obama Administration, Rep. Issa may in fact have violated House ethics rules as well as federal wiretap laws.
According to CREW:
Rather than releasing the warrant application to the media directly, which would clearly have been prosecutable, Rep. Issa inserted the information into the Congressional Record. This way, he shielded his otherwise illegal conduct behind the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution. Evidence also suggests Rep. Issa or his staff may have directed reporters to the Congressional Record to ensure the information contained in the leaked warrant application was discovered and further publicized. Such actions, which could constitute “republication” of the material, might not be subject to the same constitutional protections.
CREW also argues that there is precedent for holding Rep. Issa accountable for his potential violation of the wiretap statute, and that a refusal to do so would bring even more discredit to the House leadership than Rep. Issa’s botched and politically-motivated Fast and Furious investigation already has.
Yesterday the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, prompting a walkout of 108 Democrats who wanted to make clear that the vote was a baseless political stunt aimed at tarnishing the Attorney General and the Obama Administration.
But a bombshell new report released on Wednesday, June 27th makes perfectly clear how hollow attacks on Holder’s handling of the “Fast and Furious” program really are. Investigative reporter Katherine Eban, writing for Fortune Magazine, recounts in exhaustive detail how the scandal unfurled into a political circus, in a tale of “rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.”
Eban reports how a key player in the botched operation, former Marine David Voth, fell victim to a swirl of false accusations by disgruntled former-ATF agents with ulterior motives.
“Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA 49), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has been in pursuit of additional documents pertaining to Fast and Furious, in addition to floating dubious conspiracy theories regarding the operation. Eban notes how the increased scrutiny of the ATF has made it more difficult for the agency to execute one of its core missions: arrest and prosecute the people who traffic illegal guns.
“Issa's claim that the ATF is using the Fast and Furious scandal to limit gun rights seems, to put it charitably, far-fetched. Meanwhile, Issa and other lawmakers say they want ATF to stanch the deadly tide of guns, widely implicated in the killing of 47,000 Mexicans in the drug-war violence of the past five years. But the public bludgeoning of the ATF has had the opposite effect. From 2010, when Congress began investigating, to 2011, gun seizures by Group VII and the ATF's three other groups in Phoenix dropped by more than 90%.”
Eban’s reporting unearthed absolutely no evidence that the tactic of “gun walking”, which Rep. Issa and his allies continue to put front and center, was ever actually in play. “The ATF's accusers seem untroubled by evidence that the policy they have pilloried didn't actually exist”.
Predicated upon erroneous and misleading information, the Fast and Furious ‘scandal’ is heavy on political intrigue, yet light on substance.
On Thursday, President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, became the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. The blatantly political move by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives was the culmination of a multiyear plan by right-wing activists and politicians to undermine the nation’s top law enforcement official. Let’s recall how we got here.
The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the George W. Bush Administration, and it was this Administration’s Attorney General who ended it. Attorney General Holder has said repeatedly that fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border – including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico – is a top priority of the Department. Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General and just yesterday the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee acknowledged that he had no evidence – or even the suspicion – that the Attorney General knew of the misguided tactics used in this operation.
Incredibly, the very same politicians who condemned Holder were supportive when President Bush asserted executive privilege in an unprecedented and expansive way to conceal potentially illegal activity by government employees. On the other hand, Holder and the Obama administration have gone to great lengths to accommodate the often unreasonable demands of Republicans in Congress:
Over the past fourteen months, the Justice Department accommodated Congressional investigators, producing 7,600 pages of documents, and testifying at eleven Congressional hearings. In an act of good faith, this week the Administration made an additional offer which would have resulted in the Committee getting unprecedented access to documents dispelling any notion of an intent to mislead.
Holder and the Obama administration only asserted executive privilege when Republicans demanded documents that would put the agents fighting gun violence at risk. This is yet another irony.
As Right Wing Watch reported, Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee and Holder’s chief inquisitor, has been pushing a conspiracy theory for months that Obama and Holder intentionally allowed gun-smuggling to Mexico in order to boost violence and use it as the justification for an assault weapons ban here. It’s such a completely unhinged and baseless argument that it’s hard to take seriously. But Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the NRA and even elected officials like Issa have aggressively pushed this lie and whipped their base into fever pitch.
While Holder is taking it on the chin for protecting agents working to keep us safe, the right wing is saying that the Obama administration intentionally let people, including an American border patrol agent, get killed as part of some gun control conspiracy. In reality, Mexico is awash with American guns. And the right-wing created the extremely lax gun control system that makes it possible.
In the Republican House of Representatives, where up is often down and black is white, the people working to prevent gun violence are smeared as having blood on their hands. That’s why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rightly called the contempt vote a “heinous act” and “unprincipled.” Sadly, a full 17 House Democrats were successfully pressured by the NRA to part ways with Pelosi and condemn Holder.
It’s clear now, if it wasn’t already, that we’re up against people who will say just about anything to win. We should expect more nonsense heading into the election. But ultimately the best way to beat back their lies is going to the ballot box.
This afternoon, the Republican led House of Representatives approved a contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder as part of the GOP’s ongoing attacks against the Attorney General and his office.
People For the American Way President Michael Keegan issued the following statement.
“It’s been clear since day one of the Obama Administration that Republicans have chosen to put politics above principle in their efforts to attack the President at every turn, regardless of the facts or the needs of the American people. This move is no different. Attorney General Holder has been completely forthcoming about the problems in the Fast and Furious program, but that’s never been the issue. Instead Republicans are still looking for any excuse to tarnish this President.
“The more time Attorney General Holder is forced to spend on this manufactured crisis, the less time he and his team have to address the real challenges our country faces, including his efforts challenging restrictive voter suppression programs. Given Republicans’ eagerness to attack the Obama Administration at any cost, Eric Holder should wear today’s vote as a badge of honor. Clearly, he’s doing something right.”
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way issued the following statement following the party line vote by the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee engineered by Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. The Committee acted despite the Attorney General’s extensive efforts over the past several months to provide the Committee with the information it needed to conduct its investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.
“This is nothing more than a political witch hunt, perhaps best exemplified by the announcement of the NRA – which bizarrely sees the ‘Fast and Furious’ program as an effort to justify domestic gun control laws – that it would ‘score’ this contempt vote.” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “To be sure, Congress has a legitimate interest in investigating Operation Fast and Furious, but Chairman Issa and Republican majority on the Committee appear to be more interested in scoring political points than in getting to the bottom of what happened.
“The hoops the Committee is demanding the Attorney General jump through illustrate that these contempt hearings are as partisan as they are extreme. Over the course of this ‘investigation,’ the Committee has ordered the A.G. to produce documents whose confidentiality is protected by federal law, has refused to subpoena Bush Administration officials to testify about their knowledge of the operation during their time in office, has refused to allow public testimony from officials whose testimony counters Issa’s partisan narrative, and has repeatedly rejected the A.G.’s efforts to accommodate the committee, making compliance all but impossible.
“Attorney General Holder should be commended for the courageous steps he has taken to bolster civil rights and liberties in this country. Unfortunately, these Oversight Committee hearings do nothing but distract from those critically important efforts and undermine the Justice Department’s essential function – to enforce the rule of law.”
In a summit at the White House yesterday with 150 grassroots and legal leaders from 27 states, Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler stressed the importance of maintaining fair and effective federal courts, and criticized Senate Republicans for creating gridlock that has left one in ten federal court seats vacant.
Holder stressed President Obama’s effort to nominated qualified and diverse nominees to the federal courts. 46 percent of the president’s confirmed judicial nominees have been women and 37 percent have been people of color, more than under any other president in history. “Our people are diverse, they are qualified and they will serve the American people well in their time on the bench,” he said.
While President Obama has nominated dozens of highly qualified, diverse Americans to the federal bench, his nominees have met with unprecedented obstruction from Senate Republicans.
“Republican obstruction and these delays on the floor aren’t happenstance. They’re strategic and they’re having a devastating impact,” Ruemmler told attendees.
Ruemmler said that the conservative movement “understands the important role courts play in all of the issues we care deeply about as a country.”
Today’s summit was a sign that progressives are beginning to care deeply about the courts as well.
“This matters. This really matters,” Holder said. “This is a key legacy for any president. It’s one of the ways that a president’s success can be measured.”
The Senate is currently debating the nomination of David Ogden to be Obama’s Deputy Attorney General. That, in itself, is telling. Ogden was expected to sail through the confirmation process, but by last week there was talk of a full-on filibuster.
It’s not easy to disrupt the confirmation of a widely respected attorney with previous government experience and bipartisan backing. It takes big lies and a big megaphone. But the Religious Right and its Senate allies managed just fine.
To hear Senator Orrin Hatch talk about it, you’d think that Obama had actually nominated Larry Flynt to be Eric Holder’s deputy: “The pornography industry is excited about Mr. Ogden’s nomination.”
But that’s nothing. Here’s how the executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition summed up Ogden: “He will be a great ally for advocates for death and homosexuality inside the Justice Department.”
Bear in mind, they’re talking about a man who enjoys the backing of the National District Attorneys Association, National Association of Police Officers, Fraternal Order of Police, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and many others. He even won the support of Republican Senators Specter, Graham, and Kyl in committee.
Ogden’s right-wing antagonists don’t care about any of that. They’ve latched onto a handful of cases involving abortion and obscenity from his many years as a corporate lawyer and have distorted them beyond all recognition. Ogden, for instance, represented the American Library Association in its fight against overzealous internet filtering and the American Council for the Blind over whether the Library of Congress should make a Braille version of Playboy, as was the practice for other popular periodicals.
These cases had very real First Amendment implications. But never mind that. His old casework is enough for the Traditional Values Coalition to call him a “pro-pornography zealot.” Concerned Women for America has even speculated that his nomination might mean that the “United States will also fund the international production and distribution of pornography.”
These smears reached hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of Americans via right-wing cable news, talk radio, and blogs. Senate conservatives took notice, hence the five ‘no’ votes in the committee and the grumbling about a filibuster. In fact, Senator Majority Leader Reid was forced to file cloture on the vote.
Ogden will surely be confirmed when the Senate finally votes on his nomination today (around 2 pm). But the outlandish rhetoric from the far right and the willingness by conservative Senators to play along are sure signs of what’s to come.