A federal judge appointed by President Barack Obama may force him to turn loose of documents relating to Operation Fast and Furious, the scandalous gun trafficking sting that prompted a full blown investigation and hearings before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Yesterday in federal court in Washington, D.C., District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, after reminding Justice Department attorney Ian Gershengorn that there are three branches of government, did not appear ready to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Congress to force the release of documents protected by executive privilege.
The president extended privilege protection last summer to the documents as Attorney General Eric Holder was resisting demands from the committee, chaired by Congressman Darrell Issa, that the documents be turned over to Capitol Hill investigators. Obama’s decision caused many to wonder just what the administration is trying to hide about the embarrassing operation.
This column, along with National Gun Rights Examiner Dan and independent “citizen journalist” Mike Vanderboegh, heavily covered and probed the Fast and Furious scandal for more than two years. The story was also doggedly pursued by CBS’ Sharyl Attkisson, who won an Emmy for her coverage, and Fox News’ William La Jeunesse. Codrea was named “Gun Rights Journalist of the Year” in 2011 by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms for his ground-breaking coverage.
According to Reuters and the Associated Press, while the Justice Department had released thousands of documents to the Oversight Committee, those dealt with the operation. The committee now wants related documents that allegedly may reveal how the department, under Holder, “responded once Congress started investigating.”
The president had insisted that he knew nothing of the operation and never approved it. He also pointedly made an effort to show that the operation was an offshoot of an earlier troubling gun running sting called Operation Wide Receiver; an effort that skeptics in the firearms community said was his “blame Bush” fall back.
Meanwhile, a key officer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – the agency that conducted both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious – called the latter operation “the perfect storm of idiocy.” That agent, Carlos Canino, spoke with this column.
By fighting so hard to prevent the documents from falling into the hands of Issa’s committee, the president is further painting himself into a political corner allowing many to wonder what he’s hiding. Until the president extended executive privilege to cover Holder’s refusal to turn over the documents, he kept some political distance between himself and the scandal. However, once privilege was extended, Mr. Obama “took ownership.”
Late last June, Holder was held in contempt of Congress as 17 Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans on the landmark issue. The first African-American attorney general in the nation’s history also became the first attorney general ever held in contempt of Congress. The Justice Department’s Inspector General fixed much of the blame on ATF officials.
Today, more than three years after an initial investigation was launched by Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was followed by a formal probe by Issa’s committee, questions linger about the purpose of the operation, and what happened after it was brought to light.
The protected documents might hold some answers.