Trying to Sort out the “Fast and Furious” Situation

Fast and furious, or a lot of sound and fury signifying not too much?

While I have been aware of the discussion over the policy known as Fast and Furious for some time, I have not spent a great deal of time contemplating it.  I have to admit, the whole thing has mostly struck me as more about partisan point-scoring/conservative media machine feeding than anything else.

However, having said that, as a philosophical proposition I find that Congress ought to be allowed to oversee the actions of the executive.  Indeed, I think that Congress is, on balance, far too timid on this count (over time and regardless of the partisan mix in question).  Further, I am dubious of claims of executive privilege as a general proposition and at the moment am unclear as to the concrete basis of the administration’s claim in in this case.

As such, while I think that Congressman Issa is motivated by partisan political goals (certainly he came into his current position making a host of claims of that nature—for example see here and here), that does not diminish that fact that a) we do have a dubious and failed policy being examined here, and b) executive departments are answerable to the Congress (even if they don’t like that fact).

Okay, so what was “Fast and Furious”?  The NYT describes it thusly:

From late 2009 to early 2011, A.T.F. agents allowed guns to “walk” — choosing not to interdict them swiftly in an effort to build a bigger case. But they lost track of about 2,000 guns that probably reached a Mexican drug cartel. Two of the weapons were found near a December 2010 shootout at which a Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed.

And WaPo as follows:

Operation Fast and Furious was run out of the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives between 2009 and 2011, with the backing of the U.S. attorney in Phoenix. Federal agents targeting the Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel did not interdict more than 2,000 guns they suspected of being bought illegally, in the hope of later tracking them to the cartel. The ATF lost track of most of the firearms, some of which have been found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States.

Two of the guns connected to the botched operation were found at the Arizona site where U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010.

Was this a new and unique program?  Apparently not (back to the NYT):

It has since come to light that the bureau had used similar tactics three times during the Bush administration, although it lost track of fewer weapons.

Some info on past programs here.  As best I can tell, Fast and Furious was a larger and more ambitious program than was the case with the earlier gun walking programs.

A good overview of F&F can be found in a 2001 CSM piece: How Mexican killers got US guns from ‘Fast and Furious’ operation and here via ABC:  AG Under Fire Over ‘Fast and Furious’: When Did He Know About Program?

As best I can tell, the main point of contention here is that two of guns in question were used in a crime that included the death of US Border Patrol agent (and that one of those guns was the murder weapon).  Without diminishing the death, I can’t help but wonder the following:

1.  If the specific gun in question had not been allowed to walk, would the agent in question be alive today?  This strikes me as unlikely, as it isn’t as if Mexican cartels are known for having a hard time acquiring guns.

2.  What if the dead person was a Mexican law enforcement officer or an innocent citizen?  Does that diminish the significance of a Fast and Furious weapon being involved?  In fact, if 2,000 guns went missing, there can be little doubt that such things happened.  Indeed, other F&F weapons have been found at other crime scenes.

The bottom line to me is that if guns were going to be allowed to walk then it was highly likely that a) some of the guns would be lost, and/or b) some of the guns would be used in a crime, meaning that they would almost certainly be used to shoot and kill someone.  I say “and/or” because if the guns were not in the BATF’s possession, even if they knew where they were (in theory), the guns were still in the possession of cartel members.  We all know how and for what drug cartel members use guns.  As such, this seems like a bad idea from the get-go.

Therefore, regardless of the partisan political angle, the entire gun walking bit strikes me an ill-conceived policy and one for which responsibility needs to be assigned and taken, even if that is going to create embarrassment.  I will further note that if the Obama administration didn’t want this to be an election year problem, they should have dealt with it more quickly than they have.  Of course instead of being fast and furious, all this may end up being a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing (or, at least not much), as it will feed the noise machine leading up to November, but the likelihood that any of it will be settled legally or policy-wise by then is unlikely.

I suppose I should conclude by noting that this is just another footnote to failure in the ongoing mess that is the US drug war.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Crime, Latin America, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    I suppose I should conclude by noting that this is just another footnote to failure in the ongoing mess that is the US drug war.

    Bingo – without the War on Some Drugs, which has been a total failure, there would be no drug cartels. Just one more example of blowback of ill conceived and foolish policy.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The questions that I have about the program, regardless of what administration planned it or carried it out, are a) who needs to approve an operation that could potentially put lives at risk? b) was that procedure carried out in this instance? c) if not have the individuals responsible been disciplined? d) if they haven’t why not?

  3. mattb says:

    A very solid overview.

    The only piece that I think it worth adding — tying to the general wisdom that the issue is not so much the lie (or more generously mistaken statement), but in the actions taken to coverup the lie — is that all things “Fast and Furious” related need to be divided into two categories:

    1. Issues surrounding the specifics of the operation.
    2. Issues surrounding the Administrations response to Operation Fast and Furious going public, and in particular, the February 4, 2011 letter to Congress, written by Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, that denied that the operation was taking place.

    Each of these has lots of issues and nuances to disentangle. The problem is that many commentators here — both pro and again — tend to collapse the two issues into a single one.

    Thank you for this post (and likewise Dave Schulers response) that works to keep issue #1 (and questions that arise from it) from collapsing into issue #2.

  4. Rob in CT says:

    I’ve yet to see anyone seriously dispute that this was a stupid idea. But then most of the people I consider worth listening too also recognize the destructive idiocy of the WoD, aka Prohibtion 2.0.

    There’s going to be egg-on-face. There’s already been some, but not a lot. The GOP wants, of course, maximum egg on a particular face (Obama, or at least Holder, his direct subordinate). Which is fine. Issa may be slime, but hey, welcome to politics.

    Possible silver linings to this mess include: a) illustrating, once again, the stupidity of the WoD (specifically, illustrating the stupidity of it to politicians. They need to actually suffer political blowback); and b) Congress stepping up to challenge the Executive more (this includes, hopefully, the Dems hardening their hearts as well, and treating the next GOP POTUS accordingly).

  5. B. Objective says:

    I agree with Ron Beasley. Well put.

    Although, there is some important political points to be made here. The notion that we will give cartel members assault weapons, so that we can… Track them? Really? This presumably would be done by making an arrest, or as in said case, finding the weapon at the scene of a horrible crime. It is not as if these guns had GPS in them (which would have made a whole lot more sense, if plausible). We would actually have to remove the gun from said violent cartel member’s person. How likely is this? Who in the U.S. Government sat down at a desk, with most likely 10 or more people approving of this F&F operation and thought “Hey, lets put some of the best weapons in the hands of some of the ruthless killers and see if that would be a good way to determine where the weapons are going.” An operation of such international magnitude must be approved by the higher ups.

    Which is where the real problem comes in. Has someone perjured themselves? In most likelihood yes, we already have the DOJ and Holder’s office back tracking on statements made under oath to congress. If it is much a do about nothing, then I would guess accountability should just be swept under the rug from here on out- have at it Federal Government- for we the people will no longer hold you accountable, even when your actions directly, or indirectly cause an individual harm, for you are the government, the almighty.

  6. jan says:

    The Telegraph has a succinct overview of the F & F debacle, putting it more into plain text and context than merely trying to pass it off as a political ploy, by conservatives. Similar to what some posters here have been saying (me included), there is a growing vibe out there that the fast and furious scandal is turning into President Obama’s Watergate.

    Fast and furious hasn’t been discussed a lot in the mainstream media, which is why the facts can seem so preposterous when you read them for the first time. But the story is slowly unraveling and the public is catching up with the madness.

    It took some time for the Watergate story to have significance as well. But, once it unfolded, and especially when it was looked upon as an Executive cover-up, the scandal took on a life of it’s own. However, as Tim Stanley points out, nobody died because of the Watergate break-in. It was a shameful political move that was ‘perverted’ by Nixon’s attempt to have it go away. However, Fast and Furious is very different, not only from Bush’s ‘Wide Receiver’ operation, which is now being regurgitated to play catcher for the blame, but also from the extensive side effects it had on others, in the murder of countless Mexican people and one border agent over here.

    It’s important to note that the Bush administration oversaw something similar to Fast and Furious. Called Operation Wide Receiver, it used the common tactic of “controlled delivery,” whereby agents would allow an illegal transaction to take place, closely follow the movements of the arms, and then descend on the culprits. But Fast and Furious is different because it was “uncontrolled delivery,” whereby the criminals were essentially allowed to drop off the map. Perhaps more importantly, Wide Receiver was conducted with the cooperation of the Mexican government. Fast and Furious was not.

    IMO a more partisan way to look at this whole issue would be to say it was not an issue, and only a political attempt to derail the Obama Administration.

  7. JKB says:

    There is little to sort out. F&F was a current administration expanded version of prior effort. However, at the same time the BATF was forcing law abiding gun shops to sell guns to straw buyers who were going to smuggle them to Mexican cartels, others in BATF and the Obama administration were using the fact guns from US gun shops were found in Mexico as an argument for expanded gun control.

    But instead of owning up to the operation and reporting the who, what, when, where of how and why it was attempted to Congress, Holder at first denied it existed (since claimed subordinates lied to the DOJ leadership) then sought to impede Congress from oversight of a grave error in DOJ collective judgement and lack of management controls by DOJ leadership.

    But the issue here with the “Executive Privilege” is not the operation per se but the demonstrably false letter the DOJ sent in response to Congressional inquiries. A letter since acknowledged by DOJ to be false and withdrawn. The privilege has been extended to prevent Congress from access to documents related to the development of that response. The documents go directly to the Congressional oversight of the legislatively created DOJ. There is no Constitutional privilege for the DOJ’s internal workings as they exist at the pleasure of the Congress, the operate at the funding of Congress, they are authorized by the acts of Congress. Congress therefore has an unimpeachable interest in determining whether the DOJ leadership willfully sought to lie to them or the leadership is incompetent and not exercising proper control over the Department and subordinate agencies.

  8. I think the other numbers that might matter are the page counts:

    “About 80-thousand pages exist. We’ve got about six-thousand pages. They come up. We thought they were going to produce the documents yesterday. All they want to do is negotiate. Well, I negotiated a year ago with them when I was holding up the deputy attorney general and held it up for two months. Finally sat down with the attorney general and, Holder, and he’s agreed to do certain things if I release the hold. I released the hold. He didn’t deliver,” said Grassley.

    First, it’s not exactly stonewalling when you turn over 6000 pages, and second, 80000 pages doesn’t seem like too specific a request.

    If it’s a request for “everything an administration arm talked about,” that might justify a “privileged” claim.

    On the other hand, if it is narrow, say all the communications with the F&F team, it might be reasonable.

    Anyone know where the 80000 page request comes from?

  9. mattb says:

    @jan:

    The Telegraph has a succinct overview of the F & F debacle, putting it more into plain text and context than merely trying to pass it off as a political ploy, by conservatives.

    Ok, Jan, you realize that an article that concludes its first paragraph the following phrase isn’t exactly written from a neutral perspective:

    The question of why the Prez intervened in this way will surely hang over the investigation and the White House for many months to come. Be patient, conservatives. It took nearly eight months for the Watergate break in to become a national news story. But when it finally did, it toppled a President. [source: the telegraph article]

    I think it’s fair for us to point out that that “succinct overview” is (a) written from a conservatively bias position (so much for the always liberal MSM) and (b) going to make the argument for why this is analogous to Watergate, while leaving out the parts that make this rather different.

    So, when this editorial makes the Watergate comparison, he leaves out at least one key aspect… that Nixon was covering up not just an (a) ILLEGAL break in, but a plan, created by G. Gordon Liddy, to engage in a number of ILLEGAL activities in the service of NIXON’S OWN REELECTION CAMPAIGN.

    Yes, part of the issue was the coverup. But much of it tied to the entire (a) ILLEGAL part and (b) it was in the service of the PRESIDENT’S REELECTION CAMPAIGN!!!!

    Seriously, we all seem to agree that F&F was a misguided at best, and flat out idiotic at worst. But, has anyone been able to successfully make the argument that F&F operatives knowingly engaged in illegal activities? At most, my understanding is that this was an issue of gross negligence.

  10. For what it’s worth, I think that a F&F gun showed up in any shootout, with a US or Mexican officer, is very bad. It highlights the stupidity of the program.

  11. mattb says:

    @JKB:

    However, at the same time the BATF was forcing law abiding gun shops to sell guns to straw buyers who were going to smuggle them to Mexican cartels, others in BATF and the Obama administration were using the fact guns from US gun shops were found in Mexico as an argument for expanded gun control.

    Source please?

    In particular can you produce a source to back this following bit up:

    the BATF was forcing law abiding gun shops to sell guns to straw buyers who were going to smuggle them to Mexican cartels

    Maybe I’ve missed it, but I’ve never seen anything about FORCING the sale of guns. I do know that a number of Phoenix gun dealers cooperated with the investigation.

  12. @this:

    Apparently the mode of investigation these days is to get a big document dump, like all emails for a company or government department, and then to use search engines to go through and find smoking guns.

    The government doesn’t have enough interns to read 80,000 pages. They want a DB to search.

    In terms of negotiation … who owns the DB? Who clears the queries? How do you prevent fishing?

  13. mattb says:

    @jan:

    IMO a more partisan way to look at this whole issue would be to say it was not an issue, and only a political attempt to derail the Obama Administration.

    (This isn’t directly at you Jan)

    This entire “only a political attempt” line of thought truly bugs me as it imagines a magical world where things either are or are not political.

    There’s little question that Issa’s investigation is, at least in part, politically motivated. Steven did an excellent job of documenting a lot of evidence to point to this. But does that negate any good (or the bad) that comes out of the investigation?

    Likewise, Obama’s recent announcement on changes to Immigration enforcement is likewise, at least in part, politically motivated. But does that negate any good (or the bad) that comes out of that move.

    More importantly, does the political aspects of either these actions (or countless other action taken by individuals at different levels of government), negate the fact that the person engaging in them thinks that they are doing the right thing for their constituents, if not the entire country?

  14. JKB says:

    @mattb:

    Dude, learn how to use Google Try “Fast and Furious gun store owners”

    Here’s the top link from the LA Times

    Reporting from Glendale and Rio Rico, Ariz. — In the fall of 2009, ATF agents installed a secret phone line and hidden cameras in a ceiling panel and wall at Andre Howard’s Lone Wolf gun store. They gave him one basic instruction: Sell guns to every illegal purchaser who walks through the door.

    For 15 months, Howard did as he was told. To customers with phony IDs or wads of cash he normally would have turned away, he sold pistols, rifles and semiautomatics. He was assured by the ATF that they would follow the guns, and that the surveillance would lead the agents to the violent Mexican drug cartels on the Southwest border.

  15. @JKB: Dude, that quotation does not indicate “forced”–it indicates what was done. Your quotation does not disprove cooperation.

  16. JKB says:

    @mattb:

    Yes, armed federal agents from the agency that controls your very license to possess much less sell your firearms come in asking for your cooperation. Agents who with one call, can have you audited and shutdown by lunch. Agents who can confiscate your entire inventory for months even if no wrongdoing is ever found want you to cooperate.

    So you cooperate.

    What was the line about an offer you can’t refuse?

  17. mattb says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: You beat me to it.

    @JKB: nice response. So in other words, you are purely speculating and trying to justify it as “proof” of coercion.

    BTW, does this mean that Bush administration forced, for example, Telcom companies to wiretap their wireless subscribers? Because clearly the exact same argument could be made there.

    In fact, doesn’t that mean that one is incapable of ever cooperating with the Federal Government (or really any government) in just about any situation? I mean, can you think of a single case where the government can’t make someone’s life miserable for not cooperating?

    I just want to make sure that we apply the “JKB Theory of Force” equally in all situations.

  18. PD Shaw says:

    But the issue here with the “Executive Privilege” is not the operation per se but the demonstrably false letter the DOJ sent in response to Congressional inquiries.

    I agree that’s the issue. I’m not particularly interested in the operation itself. My initial question is whether a misrepresentation in a letter sent to Congress such as the one withdrawn by the DOJ can constitute a crime? Is the letter similar to sworn testimony? If the falsehoods in the letter would constitute a crime if done intentionally, as opposed to innocently as the Administration claims, then does Congress have the right to investigate a crime perpetrated against them? If so, is this no longer strictly an oversight issue?

  19. jan says:

    @mattb:

    “So, when this editorial makes the Watergate comparison, he leaves out at least one key aspect… that Nixon was covering up not just an (a) ILLEGAL break in, but a plan, created by G. Gordon Liddy, to engage in a number of ILLEGAL activities in the service of NIXON’S OWN REELECTION CAMPAIGN.”

    I’m pretty surprised at your justification being centered on something in a plan that could have happened (aiding Nixon’s reelection campaign), but didn’t, because it was bungled and revealed ahead of time, versus something that did happen — people being murdered by guns we supplied, and didn’t track. Perhaps in the legal world of crimes, murder falls below illegal activities that didn’t occur. However, in the public court of opinion, it may not.

    As far as this being a ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ publication or POV, sometimes a person is better served to read what’s offered rather than judging the veracity of something by it’s political leanings.

    “Seriously, we all seem to agree that F&F was a misguided at best, and flat out idiotic at worst. But, has anyone been able to successfully make the argument that F&F operatives knowingly engaged in illegal activities? At most, my understanding is that this was an issue of gross negligence.”

    I wonder how different this concluding paragraph would look if it had been a McCain operation rather than an Obama one. What I find fascinating is that Bush is being brought up in this current mire, because the theme of gun-walking is similar. However, that is where the similarity ends, as everything else is radically different — size, scope, controls, and outcome (participating in a Mexican Civil War and a death of a law officer). And, yet you put it in such milquetoast terms of being only ‘misguided!!!!’

  20. JKB says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I understand, as long as your beloved bureaucrats don’t hold a physical gun to a citizen’s head it’s cooperation, not force.

    The implied link between comply and don’t complain and the risk of an enforcement action just doesn’t exist.

  21. @JKB: There is a rather significant difference between proof of coercion (which you asserted to easily have by a mere Googling) and inferring a particular interpretation based on your preferred conclusions.

    You can interpret things all you like, but that doesn’t qualify as proof of your assertion.

  22. @jan: There is substantial difference between a policy gone bad and illegal activity designed to help a political campaign.

    And again: one cannot pretend that said death would not have happened without F&F unless one is going to argue that the sole source for guns was F&F, which we know is not the case.

  23. @JKB: This interchange has nothing to do with my views on bureaucrats, or even the policy in question. It has to do with the use of evidence and appropriate argumentation. You are making strident claims without foundation. I would be far more sympathetic to your position if you were no so insistent that you had clear proof of coercion, rather than simply an inference.

    By your logic, by the way, no citizen ever cooperates with law enforcement, but are, by definition, coerced.

  24. jan says:

    @mattb:

    “More importantly, does the political aspects of either these actions (or countless other action taken by individuals at different levels of government), negate the fact that the person engaging in them thinks that they are doing the right thing for their constituents, if not the entire country? “

    So, what you are saying is that ‘good intentions’ should count for ameliorating ‘misguided’ actions which unfortunately have horrific outcomes?

  25. I linked to Ezra Klein’s piece on identity politics yesterday.

    I can see some on the left doing that. Frankly, I see “if it wasn’t this specific gun” as that kind of argument. Of course every gun at a shootout supports one side or another. If someone dies in a firefight, of course all the other guns contributed.

    That said, man, is Jan a poster girl for the same thing on the other side or what? Sorry Jan, but it really seems that your favorite points are things that aren’t true in an abstract sense. They are only tokens in your identity politics.

  26. anjin-san says:

    one cannot pretend that said death would not have happened with F&F unless one is going to argue that the sole source for guns was F&F, which we know is not the case.

    Bingo. Does anyone actually think the multi-billion dollar Mexican drug cartel can’t get all the weapons it wants, any time it wants them? Clearly this program was a screw up, perhaps even a colossal screw up, but to claim it “caused deaths” is a callous attempt to exploit the deaths of people who were victims of the WOD & cartel wars.

  27. (The case in point would be the accusation of illegal behavior in F&F. Since F&F was cleared up the chain, it was legal. It wasn’t rogue. Though as I’ve said a few times, I think it was certainly stupid.)

  28. JKB says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    True but anyone wishing to stay in business would not claim coercion unless their was some jeopardy to their participation.

    But we are in the philosophical realm. Can a citizen ever voluntarily cooperate with a government agency that has wide discretion over whether to grant them license to operate a business or own an object? Like the schoolgirl and the teacher, the citizen is not in a position to say no without seemingly unrelated retaliation by the entity in authority. The citizen, like the schoolgirl, may approve of the request or even yearn for the close relationship, but we can never know since neither can decline with out adverse action against them for the choice.

  29. @john personna:

    Since F&F was cleared up the chain, it was legal. It wasn’t rogue. Though as I’ve said a few times, I think it was certainly stupid.

    Even beyond the question of approval, I am not sure that there is anything here that can be charged as illegal in terms of the policy itself.

    And agree in re: the stupid. And really, people who approve stupid policies should be held responsible.

  30. @jan:

    have horrific outcomes?

    To get a perhaps (or maybe perhaps not) a little Reductio ad absurdum for the moment: if one death by the hands of criminals equals tragic, then what are wars, especially ill-conceived ones?

  31. anjin-san says:

    @ Jan

    horrific outcomes

    Perhaps you could explain the “horrific outcome” in a bit more detail. People who already have a vast amount of weapons got some more weapons. Not a good thing to be sure, but can you make a credible argument that if F&F had never existed, the WOD/cartel wars would have taken even one less life?

  32. jan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Steven,

    You supply very scholarly responses, giving credence to the idea that the world is full of technical rights and wrongs. Yes, you can speculate that murders would have still occurred without the weapons supplied by this misguided F&F operation. But, then again, maybe they wouldn’t have.

    Speculation is a two-sided coin, in most cases.

    One also could speculate that the plumber’s plans, in the misguided Watergate break-in, may never have panned out as envisioned, even if they were not caught.

    “There is substantial difference between a policy gone bad and illegal activity designed to help a political campaign.”

    Here I disagree. The F&F was a poorly designed and implemented policy that went bad. The legal problems arising from this, though, may come from the ‘cover-up,’ similar to what befell Nixon, rather than from the demerits or shameful intricacies of the operation itself.

  33. @jan:

    You supply very scholarly responses, giving credence to the idea that the world is full of technical rights and wrongs. Yes, you can speculate that murders would have still occurred without the weapons supplied by this misguided F&F operation. But, then again, maybe they wouldn’t have.

    Speculation is a two-sided coin, in most cases.

    I must confess: I really have idea what your point is here.

    And in regards to the policy having “gone bad” you seem to be implying that the death of the Border Patrol agent was the result of the policy. However, that is rather clearly not the case.

    And yes: there is a difference between breaking into the DNC HQ to help a presidential candidate and legitimate, even if ill conceived, public policy.

    And yes: cover ups tend to be the issue, but you are pretending like all cover ups are identical, and this is simplistic at best.

  34. jan says:

    The machinations of theoretical ruminations can certainly produce massive rationalizations.

  35. mattb says:

    @janPleasel let Steven’s metered responses also stand as my responses to the thoughts you have directed at me in this thread.

    Not only has he expressed the core of what would have been my response, but his are are far more polite than any of the attempts that I made to draft responses to your posts.

  36. @jan:

    Here I disagree. The F&F was a poorly designed and implemented policy that went bad. The legal problems arising from this, though, may come from the ‘cover-up,’ similar to what befell Nixon, rather than from the demerits or shameful intricacies of the operation itself.

    Let me help you here. It may be true that F&F was stupid, and .. well CYA was stupid …

    but CYA is not the same as cover-up, and Obama is not the same as Nixon.

    That’s just identity politics BS.

  37. @jan:

    The machinations of theoretical ruminations can certainly produce massive rationalizations.

    And non-responsive answers, especially platitudinous ones, make for poor substitutes for actual argumentation.

  38. Tillman says:

    Frankly, despite it all being rooted in and possibly nothing more than a political witch hunt, I am always bothered by invocations of executive privilege.

  39. mattb says:

    I will just remind those who are not immune to “objective facts” thaat in the case of Watergate, the sitting US Attorney General (prior to leaving the position) knowingly consulted on, and approved Illegal break ins — not for the good of National Security — but in hopes of getting the president re-elected.

    In January 1972, G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP), presented a campaign intelligence plan to CRP’s Acting Chairman Jeb Stuart Magruder, Attorney General John Mitchell, and Presidential Counsel John Dean, that involved extensive illegal activities against the Democratic Party. Mitchell viewed the plan as unrealistic, but two months later he approved a reduced version which involved burgling the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C and placing wiretaps. Liddy was put in charge of the operation. He was assisted by former CIA Agent E. Howard Hunt and CRP Security Coordinator James McCord.

    [Multiple failed breakins were attempted, one successful one occured, and then, during a followup break-in, the activity was discovered and people were caught]

    THE COVER UP
    Within hours of the burglars’ arrest, the FBI discovered the name of E. Howard Hunt in the address books of Barker and Martínez. Nixon administration officials were concerned because Hunt and Liddy were also involved in another secret operation, known as the White House plumbers, which was set up to stop security ‘leaks’ and to investigate other sensitive security matters. Dean would later testify he was ordered by top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman to “deep six” a briefcase full of surveillance equipment and other evidence found in Hunt’s office. Nixon ordered his Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman to have the CIA block the FBI’s investigation into the source of the funding for the burglary.

    A few days later, Nixon’s Press Secretary, Ron Ziegler, described the event as “a third rate burglary attempt”. On August 29 at a news conference, President Nixon stated Dean had conducted a thorough investigation of the matter, when in fact Dean had not conducted any investigation at all. Nixon also said, “I can say categorically that… no one in the White House staff, no one in this Administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.” On September 15, Nixon congratulated Dean, saying, “The way you’ve handled it, it seems to me, has been very skillful, because you—putting your fingers in the dikes every time that leaks have sprung here and sprung there.”[8]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watergate_scandal

    Please feel free to draw your own conclusions. I stand with Steven, that leaving issues of moral equivalency aside, there are serious and profound differences between what took place with Watergate and the current F&F situation.

  40. mattb says:

    Side stepping the issue of whether Nixon knew anything about the Watergate plan, let me point out that prior to the execution of the break-ins, we should note that at least 3 of his IMMEDIATE advisers, knew of the plan:

    – CRP’s Acting Chairman Jeb Stuart Magruder
    – US Attorney General John Mitchell
    – Presidential Counsel John Dean

    Further we know that in addition to directly lying to the press about Watergate (after he had learned the details), Nixon was intimately involved in the execution of the cover-up (including ordering multiple people to lie).

    The larger point I am trying to make is that instead of performing the mental gymnastics to turn this into Watergate, it seems to me that one would be better suited to look ahead a few years years to one of the times that Reagan invoked Executive Privilege, namely the Iran/Contra affair.

    But that’s problematic to use as the results of that investigation were no where near as dramatic or wish fulfillment as Watergate stands to be.

  41. mattb says:

    @JKB:

    True but anyone wishing to stay in business would not claim coercion unless their was some jeopardy to their participation.

    But we are in the philosophical realm.

    Exactly. The problem is that you are building an entire truth claim on that very philosophical realm (i.e. the government explicitly forced gun dealers to participate) and using that truth claim to build a larger conspiracy theory to damn an administration that you disagree with (namely that this was all part of a concerted effort to advance gun control legislation).

    So in other words, because it suits your biases, you just pulled a bunch of stuff out of your ass to construct a fact based conspiracy theory. And when called on the lack of current evidence to support that claim, you covered that ass by saying “well its all philosophy.”

  42. JKB says:

    @mattb:

    I admit that I spoke with stridence about “force” which I cannot prove. But neither, even with assertions by the business owner, can you prove “voluntary”. The nature of the relationship between State/law enforcement and citizen belies consent when the state controls your ability to make a living through regulatory licensing, etc.

  43. Moderate Mom says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I wonder if Mr. Howard would still have his license to sell guns if he had refused to cooperate with the BATF. Your response to JKB does not become you.

  44. slimslowslider says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    Are you JKB’s mom?

  45. mattb says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    I wonder if Mr. Howard would still have his license to sell guns if he had refused to cooperate with the BATF. Your response to JKB does not become you.

    Again, without the testomony of Mr Howard, you are committing the exact same mistake that JKB is making. Namely applying your own personal biases to justify a biased reading of the situation.

    How “moderate” of you. Just like most of your posts here.

    Or rather, I hope you’re as willing to stand up for idea of the government “forcing” businesses to cooperate when it’s policies you support. For example, isn’t this a clear example of “forcing” cooperation:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/us/police-tracking-of-cellphones-raises-privacy-fears.html?pagewanted=all

  46. mattb says:

    @JKB: Correct, there’s no way to ever satisfactorily prove “force” or “cooperation” in any case where there is an uneven power dynamic. So it’s best to avoid it and try and make arguments based on facts.

    There is still little to no hard evidence to suggest Issa (and the NRA’s) rediculous notion that this was a orchestrated conspiracy to go after gun rights. Period.

    As an aside: this ironically, highlights out how un-progressive the Obama administration has been in terms of gun control — another shot against the “most liberal president evah” meme.

  47. @Moderate Mom:

    I wonder if Mr. Howard would still have his license to sell guns if he had refused to cooperate with the BATF.

    Yes, well, that’s rather the point, isn’t it? It is all based on wondering.

    Your response to JKB does not become you.

    You are going to have to help me out here. What was unbecoming of my response? (I am sincerely curious).

  48. @mattb:

    Correct, there’s no way to ever satisfactorily prove “force” or “cooperation” in any case where there is an uneven power dynamic. So it’s best to avoid it and try and make arguments based on facts.

    This is precisely the point.

  49. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    The questions that I have about the program, regardless of what administration planned it or carried it out, are a) who needs to approve an operation that could potentially put lives at risk? b) was that procedure carried out in this instance? c) if not have the individuals responsible been disciplined? d) if they haven’t why not?

    a) The head of the BATF, for something as tricky as this, and then his people have to get Justice to sign off on it. They did that in F&F through Bruerer in the Phoenix DOJ office.

    b) Yes

    c) The individuals have generally been given jobs within their departments that do not carry decision/command responsibility.
    They have all been missing from the public hearings and there is always talk of “on going” investigations for prosecution. As we know, these people followed established procedures and got permission, and being government employees, are difficult to fire without cause. By the sound of Newell’s job, he is doing clerical work. Those same factors make building a criminal case against them a tricky thing to do.

  50. anjin-san says:

    As one who lived thorough Watergate & remembers all too well the great damage that was done to our country, I am saddened to see that some folks are praying for another Watergate for purely partisan gain…

  51. KariQ says:

    Thank you Steven, for reminding me once again why I come here so often.

    To me it seems obvious Issa is involved in a transparently political witch hunt. But that doesn’t mean that F&F shouldn’t be investigated, that Congress doesn’t have an obligation to investigate, and the DOJ doesn’t have an obligation to cooperate with that investigation. The executive privilege claim disturbs me.

  52. @KariQ:

    Thank you Steven, for reminding me once again why I come here so often.

    Kind of you to say. Thanks.

  53. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: On coersion by government, I have actually heard people of the libertarian persuasion argue that it is, in fact, impossible to cooperate with the government because of the coersion factor overwhelming the situation so that cooperation cannot (their emphasis) be considered freely given.

  54. 1-) I´m reading the Mexican newspapers. Their position on Fast and Furious is maybe tougher than Issa´s. Considering the damage that the cartels did to Mexico the whole sting is offensive.

    2-) Here in Brazil we always knew that drug gangs bought guns on Miami. I find laughable the idea that Mexican Drug cartels would not do the same.

    3-) Issa may be a d*, but Holder should resign, for God Sake.

  55. Moderate Mom says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Parsing the meaning of the word “cooperation” so closely to come up with something more to your liking. Kind of reminds me of Bill Clinton and the meaning of “is”. Do you seriously believe that the gun shop owners really had a choice in their “cooperation”? Get real. When the government is the authority that issues the license that allows you to earn a living, you don’t refuse to “cooperate”. At least not if you want to maintain your license.

  56. @Moderate Mom: I would suggest that I am not the one here trying to define words in a way to fit my preferred reading of the story,

    Indeed, I would allow that we lack evidence to prove cooperation, and likewise we lack evidence of coercion (as noted above).

    You should note that you are stating that, by definition, citizens cannot cooperate with government.

  57. mattb says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Completely correct and said far more nicely than I would have.

    But you know, the entire “not starting from a fixed internal belief about how the world works (i.e. the government is bad, especially if a Democrat is running it), seeking out and seriously considering materials that challenge your beliefs, and finally not dismissing offhand any push back on your beliefs as being “weasel wording and partisan propeganda” is soooo the mark of Librul Academics.

    You, with your ivory tower interest in “proof”, “examining evidence”, and “dialectical thinking” are the reasons that this country is going straight into the kenyan-commie-fascist crapper.

  58. @mattb:

    You, with your ivory tower interest in “proof”, “examining evidence”, and “dialectical thinking” are the reasons that this country is going straight into the kenyan-commie-fascist crapper.

    We all have our crosses to bear.

  59. @Moderate Mom: BTW, you never said what was unbecoming of my comment (unless you simply mean that not sharing your interpretation of the situation is what made it such).

  60. mattb says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    @Moderate Mom: BTW, you never said what was unbecoming of my comment (unless you simply mean that not sharing your interpretation of the situation is what made it such).

    And this is what has, as of late, been stuck in my craw…

    The idea that any disagreement — and especially thoughtfully crafted and politely presented disagreement — is “unbecoming behavior.” Or that said disagreement might not be coming from a solely partisan perspective.

    Right now, I think this is especially a problem for people arguing for conservative viewpoints. Perhaps part of the rational for this has been the often repeated meme in conservative circles that their ideas and values, despite being the way most American really feel, have been under constant assault for Decades by the MSM (broadly defined).

    I also tend to think that the entire “mega dittos” Talk Radio model — which then crossed over into new media — has a lot to do with it. What Rush (and other local hosts) originally offered was an on the air support group that offered a point of view, that truth be told, was not well represented in much of traditional, national media.

    But the nature of those highly produced and controlled talk show programs, slow changed the expectations about agreement (while at the same time re-enforcing the idea that “only free thinkers listen to this program”*). And the net result is a place where people seem to honestly think that anything short of agreement on core beliefs is suspect.

    * — Complete aside, but I keep returning to something Walter Benjamin wrote at the end of “The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction” about how one of the ways to control the crowd is to allow the individuals within the crowd to have a voice/see themselves, but at the same time only to allow themselves to see themselves as part of the crowd.