The Republican Party is out to ‘get’ Barack Obama. The GOP thinks they may have found just the issue to bring him down, if not before Nov. 6th at least ON November 6th. They’re going to get it done through Attorney General Eric Holder and ‘Project Gunrunner’ now better known as ‘Fast & Furious (F & F). The House and Senate Judiciary Committees and the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform headed by the hyper-partisan Darrell Issa started their full court ‘impeach Holder’ press in mid- 2011. All three committees have subjected Holder to repeated appearances, essentially asking the same questions.
The House Judiciary Committee accused Holder and his DOJ colleagues of withholding information and downright lying about ‘fast and furious’. Fascinating! F & F was actually an offshoot of a Bush administration initiative that many veteran representatives were well aware of. It started with a 2005 Laredo, Texas pilot project of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco & Explosives (BAFTE). We’ll shorten it to ATF. The agency took it national in 2006 and it lasted for 2 years.
The appellation given to the Bush program was ‘Operation Wide Receiver’. The idea was to let straw purchasers buy weapons and ‘gun-walk’ back to Mexico. Authorities would then arrest the criminals who ended up with the firepower. It worked modestly well for a time as 2,000 guns were tracked to the Mexican ‘Sinaloa’ drug cartel. But then a series of ef-ups emerged and investigations ensued. There was little coverage or fanfare and nothing happened to the Bush Administration personnel involved, not even Holder’s AG counterpart Alberto Gonzalez.
Before we get to the meat of the Holder ‘inquisitions’ some background is in order. The Obama follow-up of Wide Receiver, Project Gunrunner which turned into F & F was a sting operation run by ATF’s Phoenix Field Division between 2009 and 2010. The goal was to track the guns to the very highest echelons of Mexican drug cartels and not just cartel gophers.
It was integrated into a larger Department of Justice program to stem the tide of guns and drugs into and out of Mexico. A software system called eTrace was developed to track the movement of arms from the U.S. to Mexico. The tracking software was to be used in every Mexican state. Things became interesting when the Phoenix ATF Field Division Office knowingly allowed Arizona straw buyers to take the guns to Mexico unfettered by U.S. Law Enforcement. The number most cited in Committee hearings for the Obama administration is 2,500 guns traceable to the AFT program. In 2009/2010 nearly 30,000 firearms were recovered in Mexico; 20,500 from the U.S. That’s just TWO years worth. Roughly 39% of the weapons were purchased in Texas, 20% in California and 10% in Arizona. A fraction of those guns were ‘fast and furious’ firearms which would average out to about 750 per year under both administrations.
The problem with ‘fast and furious’ was that eTrace lost track of some of the firearms it was supposed to trace and ultimately at least two of them showed up at the December 10th 2010, Rio Rico, Arizona murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry. Two months later, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent, Jamie Zapata, was killed in a gun battle; his fellow agent, injured. At least one gun was ‘straw’ purchased in that incident. Terry was the only AFT shooting death, out of 17 agent fatalities (car accidents, heart attacks, etc) in the 6-year history of the combined programs. Incredibly, both agents became political martyrs, their memories exploited by Republicans as cynical pawns in the GOP’s goal to discredit Holder and by extension, Obama. There is no way a reasonable person could blame Holder for those two tragic deaths.
If you follow the current hearings or forget to take your meds and watch Fox or listen to the disgraced talk show host, you’ll get the distinct impression that DOJ and AFT made a concerted attempt to keep the activities of F & F hidden from congress. Please consider the following: In 2009, alone, there were 9 congressional hearings in front of House and Senate Committees and Subcommittees on the subject. There were two reports released by DOJ on Project Gunrunner. The 2009 version was 58 pages long; the 2010 report http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/ATF/e1101.pdf, released when the dozens of right-wing house newbies arrived, was 152 pages long and included every stitch of history from the program’s beginnings in the Bush administration. Every question, every fact, every statistic was included from both the Bush and Obama programs.
Democratic Senators, Feinstein, Schumer and Whitehouse (yep, that’s his real name) submitted a 20-page report to the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control in June of 2011. It was a collection of stats and concerns about the easy availability of weapons in Mexico, most of the firepower coming from the United States. Two pages of the report are devoted specifically to Project Gunrunner. To suggest ignorance of F & F subject matter or a cover-up is preposterous.
As recently as July, 2011, Holder addressed the Mexico/United States Arms Trafficking Conference where he talked about the Gunrunner program. ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson made numerous speeches and held news conferences on the subject.
It should also be noted that AFT and DOJ work very closely on the gun issue with DEA, FBI, ICE, Homeland Security, the IRS, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marshall’s Service, the State Department, state and local law enforcement and 94 U.S. Attorney’s offices not to mention numerous Mexican agencies. Big Secret? Don’t make me laugh.
Then there’s the right-wing complaint that the president is doing nothing about anything to do with F & F. “Just the facts ma’am” as Joe Friday used to say. Since the NRA has effectively blocked the approval of a Director of AFT since 2006, there has been a succession of ‘Acting’ Directors. The aforementioned Kenneth Melson has held that position since 2009. He’s gone. The U.S. Attorney in Arizona, home of F & F; gone. Both men resigned, undoubtedly under pressure. AFT’s number 2 man, Deputy Director, William Hoover; demoted. Mark Chait, Assistant Director of AFT field agents; demoted. A total of 11 top AFT officials have been reassigned. “Thank you, ma’am.”
So most deadly weaponry that’s killing tens of thousands of Mexican citizens comes from the U.S., an estimated 30% from gun shows. Your dog can go to an unlicensed gun dealer at your local gun show and buy an armload of weapons of mass destruction. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has been trying to tackle that problem for decades. His latest effort, SB 35 ‘The Background Gun Show Check Act of 2011″ has been locked down in the Judiciary Committee of the 112th Congress since it’s January, 2011 introduction. You want hearings Republicans? Assume some meaningful control of gun shows for openers, close down gun-buying loopholes and please refrain from continuing to make fools of yourselves.
Where’s Issa when you really need him?