Yesterday, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) convened the sixth hearing on one of a series of deeply misguided gun stings that began in 2006 under George W. Bush. Issa, however, has shown little interest in actually getting to the bottom of how these ill-conceived operations, which eventually led to illegal guns being turned against federal agents, came about and what can be done to prevent similar errors from occurring again — he’s refused, for example, to call Bush era Attorney General Michael Mukasey to testify. Instead, he’s relied on a series of increasingly paranoid and ridiculous conspiracy theories to try to lay the blame for these operations at Attorney General Eric Holder’s feet.
Last December, for example, Issa touted the absurd notion that the Obama Administration is somehow using the high-profile gun violence that occurred during this operation as part of an intentional campaign to discredit the Second Amendment. In Issa’s words, “they’ve made a crisis and they’re using this crisis to somehow take away or limit people’s second amendment rights.” Issa, of course, was not able to cite a single example of people’s Second Amendment rights being taken away, because none exist.
At yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) was left with the unfortunate task of asserting this Fox Mulderesque theory:
This thing has gone wrong, was set up to go wrong, and, frankly, I think was set up to deal with Second Amendment liberties of law abiding citizens and pushing into a perception that it was the problem of the Second Amendment as opposed to law enforcement.
It’s difficult to even get your head around this accusation, which originates from a former militiaman who supports violent resistance to imagined government attempts to seize his guns. The claim appears to be that a series of botched gun stings that begun during the Bush Administration were actually part of a secret Obama plot to release guns to Mexican drug lords, so that those guns could then be used to kill federal agents, which would then cause a national uprising in support of gun control. Maybe when the Obama Administration was done executing this Rube Goldberg plan, they would then sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.
But there’s another, even more disturbing aspect to this hearing, and the five others that have proceeded it. The reason why Attorneys General Mukasey and Holder did not stop these unfortunate operations from occurring is because they cannot reasonably be expected to know about every single operation conducted by every single field operative in every part of the country. The Attorney General 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 physically possible to brief him on all of these operations if he wanted to be. For this reason, the Attorney General and DOJ’s other senior most managers must focus their attention on the very most important matters that concern their agency — serious questions of national security, or major policy decisions, or trials or appeals that impact the entire nation.
When Issa drags Holder before a House committee for four hours to be nothing more than a pawn in an elaborate game set up to embarrass President Obama, that means many more hours — most likely days — that Holder and other key Justice Department officials must spent prepping for their role in Issa’s withhunt. Every minute they spend preparing for this witchhunt is a minute they cannot spend ensuring that the law is fairly enforced, that national security officials in DOJ have the tools they need to operate, or that dangerous criminals are tracked down and prosecuted.
A real investigation is necessary to determine how these botched gun stings continued across two presidencies, which is why DOJ’s inspector general is conducting just such an investigation. Likewise, real accountability is necessary when a government operation goes so horribly wrong, which is why the senior officials who allowed this to happen have correctly been removed from their jobs or demoted. But there are real costs to the country when people like Issa can turn a very real tragedy into embarrassing and time consuming political theatre. The American people deserve to have an Attorney General who can focus on doing his job.