It is one of the most famous questions in American political history. As the Watergate scandal began to consume the Administration of President Richard Nixon, Senator Howard Baker asked: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” The answer, as those who escaped victimization by the teachers’ unions know, is: Everything… from the beginning.
This same question has resurfaced fairly often during President Barack Obama’s regrettable occupation of the White House, but perhaps never more deservedly than now. While the Administration has stonewalled inquiries, denied information requests and dragged its feet in responding to Congressional demands, the outrage over the nightmarishly mishandled Operation Fast and Furious (OFF) has reached Chris-Matthews-on-crack decibels.
OFF was the now-infamous failed sting operation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in an effort to track the pipeline of weapons between the United States and narco-terrorists in Mexico’s lawless border region. The cost of failure for OFF could be measured in dollars, but rattling off some nine-figure number (more than $100 million and climbing) has limited effect in the age of trillion-dollar national debt figures, double-digit unemployment figures and Michelle Obama’s room service bills. Besides, the real cost of OFF is tragically human.
In 2009, Eric Holder’s Department of Justice determined that Mexican drug cartels were engaging in illegal weapons purchases in the United States. So-called “straw men” were buying the guns and transporting them across the border. As anyone who has ever purchased a firearm knows, such schemes are a serious violation of the law. In the case of OFF, thousands of such weapons purchases and cross-border deliveries were made with full knowledge of — and sometimes in full view of — the ATF. One would presume that a competent Attorney General — not to mention a competent President of the United States — informed of a series of colossally bad decisions on the level of OFF, would immediately begin nailing subordinates’ careers to his bulletin board. At the very least, one might presume that the Attorney General — not to mention the President — would be aware of such a series of colossally bad decisions.
However, according to both Attorney General Holder and his big buddy in the Oval Office, they were unaware that Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley “orchestrated” the disastrous OFF with knowledge and approval of his boss, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke. (It should be noted here that both Hurley and Burke are Obama appointees.) And yet, the nine-figure catastrophe, which cost the lives of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, somehow escaped the notice of the highest levels of the Obama Administration. At least, that’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.
If you’ve watched C-SPAN lately, then you’ve seen Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) attempting to choke a straight answer out of the Obama Administration regarding OFF with the expected amount of success (none). As far back as February, Holder denied any knowledge of OFF. As recently as last week, White House spokesmodel Jay Carney responded to press corps queries with evasions on par with: “‘Fast and Furious?’ That’s that movie with Vin Diesel, right?” Obama’s Democratic accomplices in Congress, including Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) even tried to distract Issa’s House Governmental Affairs and Oversight Committee meeting from investigating OFF with tangential anti-Bill of Rights bloviating. But testimony and documents reveal a very different story.
According to ATF agent testimony, field agents had serious misgivings about OFF from the beginning, but they were ignored. Department of Justice emails obtained by Issa’s office indicate acting ATF director Kenneth Melson actually watched illegal straw purchases taking place at Arizona gun shops while he sat in his Washington office. In fact, agent testimony indicates that even the cooperating gun shops warned that OFF was a bad plan.
Good people were killed. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent. Thousands of guns were illegally transported across the border to Mexico, most of which have yet to be recovered. And the President of the United States and the Attorney General claim to have had no knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious. Let’s take the (Olympic distance) leap that neither Obama nor Holder are lying (surely, protecting the New Black Panther Party can’t take up that much time). Instead of asking what the President and Attorney General knew and when, the question should be: Are they criminally incompetent or just criminal?