Eric Holder and the Administration of Contempt

Last Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to move forward with a contempt citation against sitting US Attorney General Eric Holder. The vote was but the latest development in the multi-year “Fast and Furious” scandal.

“Operation Fast and Furious” began in 2006 as an ill-conceived plan within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) within the Department of Justice (DOJ) to capture high-ranking members of Mexican drug cartels. From 2006 to 2007, it was called “Operation Wide Receiver” and was conducted by the ATF under the Bush Administration. The program allowed known gun traffickers to purchase weapons in the United States and take them across the Mexican the border where they would either be interdicted by or under the surveillance of Mexican officials. The ATF lost track of hundreds of firearms.

In late September of 2007, the ATF discovered a few suspects purchasing guns at the same store and followed them to the border. They informed the Mexican authorities when the suspects had crossed the border, but, shocking though it may be, the Mexicans failed to apprehend the suspects. The ATF halted the program that October.

When the Obama Administration took charge in 2009, the DOJ reviewed the program in September and determined that suspected traffickers had been knowingly allowed to purchase guns in the United States. Following indictments which began in 2010, several individuals were charged. Ironically, these indictments occurred after the ATF had decided to essentially resurrect the same program earlier that year. Ultimately, the results were the same in every respect except the scale. This time, thousands of guns were lost.

The program still never gained notoriety until the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. At the scene of Terry’s death, two weapons linked to the Fast and Furious program were discovered, though ballistics tests to determine if either weapon was the murder weapon were inclusive.  The scandal progressively unraveled from there, leading to congressional investigations spearheaded by Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. And from these investigations came evidence that it was the intentional policy of the DOJ from the start to lose the guns so as to supposedly justify stronger gun control on the federal level.

As serious as these allegations were, they were simply ignored by the Obama Administration and disregarded by liberal media outlets. The repeated contradictions within Attorney General Holder’s statements and the known truth would be almost laughable were they not so serious. For example, when Holder stated in May of 2011 that he had only learned of Fast and Furious for the “first time over the last few weeks,” it was later discovered in October of 2011 that he had been briefed on the subject as early as July of 2010 while the operation was still ongoing.

The primary concern for congressional leadership and the American people has not been the legality or morality of Fast and Furious. The fact that the Department of Justice would knowingly allow weapons in the hands of thugs to the detriment of the innocent is repugnant. The true source of the political turmoil around this issue is just that: politics.

I do not mean to say that the investigations themselves are politically-driven, for at the very least there exists a rational justification for them. Any rational man would most certainly desire to figure out precisely who is responsible for such a program so that they can be held accountable for the innocent lives that were lost while they forbade agents of the law from doing their job: stopping criminals. If those accountable for such dereliction include the Attorney General of the United States, then so be it.

Instead, the opposition to the investigation on the part of Democrats (who all voted against the contempt citation) and the Attorney General himself – who has refused to turn over all subpoenaed documents – is unquestionably motivated politically. Charges that “the program began under George Bush” are valueless. It was abhorrent then just as it is now. Tu quoque fallacies are not a means of evading the fact that simply because it began under a Republican Administration does not justify continuing it under a Democratic one.

Moreover, arguments that withholding the documents are a matter of “executive privilege” (as President Obama declared them Wednesday morning) are equally ridiculous. There are certainly aspects of our nation’s executive branch which rationally should not be released to the public (e.g. legitimate undercover law enforcement operations, or the schematics to our nation’s military weaponry), but such examples are severely restricted. I do not intend to elaborate on this matter here, but it should suffice to say that executive privilege does not and should not apply to cases of illicit behavior on the part of the government. Only when the government is carrying out one of its proper functions can it claim that privilege, and even then only in cases in which the classified information relates to pending or ongoing – but not botched – actions by the government for the cause of protecting individual liberty. Fast and Furious does not meet those criteria.

The divided power structure of America’s federal government allows one branch to hold other accountable for misconduct. As it is, the House of Representatives, the entire membership of which faces reelection every two years, is the most responsive to the sentiments of the electorate (hence the massive shift in partisan proportions in that chamber in 2010). Though the House is the most susceptible  to succumbing to fleeting “passions of the people” as our Founding Fathers called them, the chances of it successfully doing harm are mitigated by its reliance on the Senate and the President to pass legislation. However, the good it can do as a result of its responsiveness to public sentiment is evident in its efforts to investigate further into the Fast and Furious debacle.

Attorney General Holder has only impeded those efforts. His actions have been the very definition of contempt, and holding him in contempt of Congress barely begins to hold him accountable for all his injudicious actions as Attorney General.

Bur Eric Holder is by far not the only member of the Obama Administration worth of censure. Indeed, the last three and a half years, with little deviance, have been one example after another of contempt on the part of President Obama and his Cabinet – contempt for our nation’s republican system of government, contempt for the Constitution, and contempt for individual rights.

The examples of this are numerous. There are obviously the notable examples of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and the NDAA, but the mistakes of this administration are not confined to legislation. Simply by expressing nominal support for things like the Occupy Wall Street Movement, President Obama has demonstrated his philosophic nihilism by standing for the destruction of all things valuable to man, including man’s life itself. His most recent display of nihilism? Expressing support for Egypt’s new president elect, who only recently said that “jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal.”

With the impending Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of Obamcare, the 2012 presidential cycle has only begun. The Republican alternative Mitt Romney is far from ideal himself, as it appears that – should he win – America will merely replace a nihilist president for a pragmatist one.

But whatever the outcome – both of court ruling and the election cycle – one must remember that solving our nation’s problems is more than simply a matter of garnering support at the ballot boxes, and it is certainly more than replacing one administration with another. Even more than being a matter of political change, solving America’s problems is a matter of philosophic and cultural change. America must come to accept a rational philosophy to underlie its political decisions, lest its decisions be nothing but irrational.

This will take time. The tide is turning, but truly reversing the last 100+ years of progressive philosophic default by our nation’s political leaders will take more than one election cycle to reverse.

But that does not preclude the possibility for political reform at the present date. There are certainly opportunities in which statesmen of value in Congress and else in our government can begin to roll back the tide of the statist doctrines which currently grip our government. The opportunity at hand to reprimand the US Attorney General for his own brand of statism should not be passed up. It will not undo President Obama’s term in office, but at least it will be a start.

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