In 2006, under President George W. Bush, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began the first of a series of misguided operations that allowed illegal guns to be sold to arms traffickers and, eventually, to Mexican drug cartels. At least two of these guns were later used to kill a federal agent. These operations were misguided from the very beginning, and they deserve the kind of thorough investigation the Justice Department’s Inspector General is currently trying to conduct — as well as new procedures to ensure that similar mistakes are not made in the future.
Unfortunately, House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) sees things differently. For more than a year, he has compounded the tragedy of these botched operations by treating them as little more than an opportunity to embarrass Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama Administration. Issa’s held half a dozen hearings on “Fast and Furious,” one of the botched operations, but refused to call Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who was in charge of the Justice Department when these operations were conceived. He’s led a months-long witchhunt for proof that Holder was somehow responsible for the operations, grasping at increasingly thin straws throughout this effort. And he’s touted the ridiculous conspiracy theory that the Obama Administration somehow wants to harness these botched efforts to “take away or limit people’s second amendment rights.”
And now, Issa’s going to escalate his inquisition even further:
Republican House leaders have drafted a proposed contempt of Congress citation against Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. in which they charge that he and his Justice Department have repeatedly “obstructed and slowed” the Capitol Hill investigation into the ATF’s flawed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.
The 48-page draft citation is being drawn up by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Top committee officials recently met for most of a day in the House speaker’s office and were given the green light to proceed toward a contempt citation, according to sources who declined to be identified.
If adopted by the GOP-led House, the contempt resolution would be sent to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington or perhaps an independent counsel in an attempt to force the Justice Department to provide tens of thousands of internal documents to the committee.
Notably, Issa did nothing to inform the committee’s minority members of this pending citation — Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) learned about it from the press. A tactic which, in Cummings’ words, “suggests that [Issa is] more interested in perpetuating [his] partisan political feud in the press than in obtaining any specific substantive information relating to the Committee’s investigation.”
More importantly, there is a very good reason why DOJ has not turned over every single document Issa seeks — those documents could undermine countless ongoing criminal investigations. Many of the documents Issa seeks are confidential materials concerning open investigations. Such documents are not subject to congressional subpoena because revealing them would also reveal “strategies and procedures that could be used by individuals seeking to evade [DOJ's] law enforcement efforts.”
Moreover, as President Reagan’s Justice Department warned in the 1980s, the Constitution’s separation of powers prevents such documents from being revealed to Congress because of the risk that the legislature could “exert pressure or attempt to influence the prosecution of criminal cases.” The Constitution separates lawmaking from enforcement because the framers feared that combining the two would be “the very definition of tyranny,” yet Issa seeks to erode this understanding as well.
America deserves a thoughtful and objective investigation into the ill-conceived operations that armed drug cartels and killed at least one federal official. Instead, they are getting partisan grandstanding that does nothing but undermine the Justice Department’s ability to do its job.
A Republican leadership aide says that Boehner has made “no decision” on whether the full House will take up Issa’ contempt resolution.