In 2006, when George W. Bush was president, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched the first of a series of misguided sting operations where illegal guns were sold in the expectation that they could be tracked to drug traders. Instead, the agents lost track of the guns, and at least two of these guns were likely later used to kill a federal agent.
This series of operations, which includes the “Fast and Furious” operation, were deeply botched. They should never have been executed and the government officials found responsible for them have correctly been removed from their jobs or demoted. None of these officials are Eric Holder. As Attorney General, Holder supervises nearly 112,000 employees. It is neither desirable for him to be aware of every single operation being conducted by low-level field agents, nor would it even be physically possible to brief him on all of these operations if he wanted to be.
Nevertheless, congressional Republicans believe they can somehow blow this botched operation up into a major political scandal for Holder simply through repeated use of hyperbole. In an interview with Fox News this morning, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) made the most outlandish claim to date — that Holder should not only lose his job, he should also face criminal charges:
It’s getting blatantly evident that Eric Holder’s broken the law. He’s lied to Congress. He should resign. He should be prosecuted for lying to Congress. And he should be disbarred. The president ought to call Eric Holder into his office and fire him today.
There is no basis for Broun’s claim that Holder somehow lied to Congress. Last May, Holder testified that he only recently learned about the nature of the Fast and Furious operation. Several lawmakers since accused Holder of perjury after they uncovered a July 2010 memo to Holder that mentioned the name of the operation but didn’t actually explain what the operation was. This memo, however, could no more have informed Holder about the operation’s misguided tactics than the fact that this blog post contains the words “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” would inform anyone who Willow Rosenberg is. It is far too generous to say that Broun is grasping at straws.
Yet, while Broun’s blovating has no chance whatsoever of pinning this botched operation on Holder, it could have a very real impact on the Department’s ability to ensure that this kind of mistake never happens again. So far, the Department appears to have acted responsibly by investigating the operation and removing the people responsible for it. Nothing, however, chills an investigation into a legitimately troubling incident more than an army of witchhunters who care more about embarrassing senior officials than they do about learning the truth.