The Justice Department is trying to protect its political appointees from the Fast and Furious scandal by concealing an internal "smoking gun" report and other documents that acknowledge the role top officials played in the program that allowed firearms to flow illegally into Mexico, according to the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
A review of the Issa-Grassley letter, which includes excerpts from ATF acting director Kenneth E. Melson's testimony to congressional investigators, utterly debunks Serrano's claim.
According to the letter, Melson did not say that there is "an internal 'smoking gun' report... acknowledg[ing] the role top officials played" in the ATF's Operation Fast and Furious. Here's what Melson said about the "smoking gun" (emphasis from the Issa-Grassley letter):
I assigned a task force of agents to read through all the [Reports of Investigation or ROIs] to determine whether or not the allegations that were being made by individuals in CBS and Senator Grassley were true or not, because frankly we didn't think they were true.
They did a review of those and found nothing that would indicate that that was true, then asked them to bring to me all the ROIs that pertained to [one defendant] in particular and I read through those and found ROIs that indeed suggested that interdiction could have occurred, and probably should have occurred, but did not occur.
And it was at that point that I took that ROI and gave it to our people and the Department.
In fact, we briefed and gave it to [the Associate Deputy Attorney General with responsibility for ATF] in particular, because to me that was a smoking gun that we really needed to look at the rest of this particular case.
Melson's "smoking gun" deals with the failed strategy behind Fast and Furious, not who knew about that strategy. It consisted of reports generated by ATF agents on the ground which "suggested that interdiction could have occurred, and probably should have occurred, but did not occur." It informed him that "we really needed to look at the rest of this particular case," not that "top officials" were involved in the program. Indeed, Melson indicates that he himself was unaware of the particulars of the program before it had been reported on in the media.
While the Issa-Grassley letter calls on DOJ to produce the ROIs Melson cites, it does not suggest that the "smoking gun" details the involvement of "top officials":
The Department should produce the documents identified by Mr. Melson months ago for the Deputy Attorney General's Office as critical to his understanding that the allegations in this case raise valid concerns. Specifically, the Department should not be withholding what Mr. Melson described as the "smoking gun" report of investigation or Mr. Melson's email regarding the wiretap applications.
Yesterday, we detailed how Fox & Friends promoted a claim that "ACORN" -- which no longer exists -- is still receiving federal money, only to back down after being contacted by a federal spokesman who pointed out that the figure Fox & Friends cited was the amount that was unspent and reclaimed from a 2005 grant. The spokesman's claim is backed up by a Government Accountability Office report issued last month.
Fox & Friends appears to have taken its information from a post by Matthew Vadum at Andrew Breitbart's Big Government website. You might remember Vadum as the guy from the right-wing Capital Research Center with a habit of making wild, factually dubious claims. He's currently promoting his new WorldNetDaily-published book, with the less-than-subtle title Subversion Inc.: How Obama's ACORN Red Shirts Are Still Terrorizing And Ripping Off American Taxpayers.
If you go to Vadum's personal website, you'll find a copy of his Big Government post. But before you see that, you will see a giant photo of Vadum taken from an appearance from Fox Business. That's taken from his appearance on the June 17 edition of Follow the Money, one of six apperances Vadum has made on that show since early June, according to a Nexis search.
Note that in the picture, Vadum is holding a copy of a GAO report on federal funding of ACORN. During the segment, he attacked the report for not hating ACORN as much as he does, dismissing it as "like teenage interns were researching on Google for a few hours" and accusing it of not detailing as many ACORN-related voter fraud convictions as he found (never mind that doing so was outside of the report's scope). In a dramatic flourish, Vadum declared that "you can just throw it away if you want" as he tossed the report behind him, pages fluttering.
Perhaps Vadum shouldn't have tossed that GAO report away -- it's the very same report that disproves his claim.
This is starting to get pathetic.
Right-wing media outlets keep dishing out new "evidence" for why senior Justice Department leaders must have known about Fast and Furious, a failed operation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). All they keep proving is that those officials knew about Project Gunrunner, the high-profile effort begun under President Bush of which Fast and Furious was one small part.
They've already used this conflation to baselessly claim that the stimulus included funds for Fast and Furious (the funds were earmarked for Project Gunrunner and were not distributed to the ATF office that handled Fast and Furious) and that a 2009 Holder speech proves that he was aware of the program (the speech references only Gunrunner and was given before Fast and Furious was initiated).
In their latest effort, these outlets are pointing to a two-minute clip of a speech that then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden gave on March 29, 2009. In the speech, Ogden said:
DOJ's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is increasing its efforts by adding 37 new employees in three new offices, using $10 million in Recovery Act funds and redeploying 100 personnel to the Southwest border in the next 45 days to fortify its Project Gunrunner, which is aimed at disrupting arms trafficking between the United States and Mexico.
ATF is doubling its presence in Mexico itself, from five to nine personnel working with the Mexicans, specifically to facilitate gun-tracing activity, which targets the illegal weapons and their sources in the United States.
Let's go over this again: Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious are not the same thing, and Fast and Furious wasn't reportedly begun until six months after Ogden gave this speech.
Fox & Friends promoted the claim that "ACORN" -- which no longer exists -- had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding, despite the fact that a federal report noted last month that the amount in question actually had not been spent. Fox & Friends backed away from the claim later in the same show by reading a statement from a federal spokesman pointing out the money had been "de-obligated and recovered."
In this morning's Washington Times, Marieke van der Vaart writes up GOP activist Eric Eversole's report attacking the Department of Justice for its handling of military absentee ballots. There are any number of problems with both the article and the report, and I'll get to those in a later blog post.
First of all, though, let's deal with van der Vaart's chronic inability to get Eversole's name right.
In the piece's second paragraph, van der Vaart introduces us to "Eric Loveland, MVP [Military Voter Protection Project] founder and author of the report." While people named "Eric Loveland" certainly exist, those people are not MVP's founder or the author of the report. As noted above (and on the report's title page), that individual is Eric Eversole.
Somehow, van der Vaart seems obliquely aware of this, as the author of the report is correctly identified as "Mr. Eversole" in paragraphs 3, 4, 5, and 8. But then, backsliding: "Mr. Loveland" returns in paragraphs 11 and 12.
If the Times doesn't know who they're reporting about, why should we expect them to know what they're reporting about?
UPDATE: The Times has updated without comment the online version of their original article, replacing all references to "Loveland" with "Eversole."
An image of the article from the Times' print edition is below the fold, with van der Vaart's bizarre name problem highlighted.
These days, Attorney General Eric Holder can't seem to scratch his nose without eliciting complaints and criticisms from media critics on the right. As the Public Employee Enemy #1 of anti-Obama conservatives, he's faced false allegations of racism, cover-ups and partisanship. Their latest charge? That he's recreating the historic subprime mortgage crisis that began the nation's economic collapse.
Last weekend, Paul Sperry at Investor's Business Daily (IBD) wrote a lengthy, context-free article condemning the Justice Department's investigations of banks whose lending policies discriminate against minorities. According to the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, the department received more referrals from regulatory agencies "of matters involving a possible pattern or practice of discrimination" in 2010 than it's received in at least twenty years. The DOJ investigations into the potential violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act by several banks have led to a number of settlements.
Sperry's IBD article is written in a way that inaccurately suggests the terms of the DOJ/bank settlements are both inherently dangerous (because they will lead to another housing crisis) and unfair (because banks are being strong-armed by the power of the federal government and the threat of being labeled racist into offering risky lines of credit). Along the way, the reporter ignores the facts and the law. Most striking is the article's tacit implication that being forced to serve minorities is inherently equivalent to being forced to engage in unwise lending practices.
The first misleading premise pushed by Sperry is that the Justice Department has asked banks to "relax their mortgage underwriting standards" and that this type of "government-imposed lax underwriting" was the cause of the housing boom and subsequently meltdown. From IBD:
In what could be a repeat of the easy-lending cycle that led to the housing crisis, the Justice Department has asked several banks to relax their mortgage underwriting standards and approve loans for minorities with poor credit as part of a new crackdown on alleged discrimination, according to court documents reviewed by IBD. [...]
Such efforts risk recreating the government-imposed lax underwriting that led to the housing boom and bust, critics fear.
First, DOJ settlements explicitly state that banks are not obligated to lend to unqualified individuals, only that they must begin providing services to minority communities they've allegedly ignored. As their agreement with Midwest BankCentre states, banks are not required to "make any unsafe or unsound loan" and must offer services only to potential customers "whose credit history does not present an unacceptably high risk to the Bank or indicate a history of fraudulent transactions."
Second, regardless of the agreements between DOJ and the banks, Sperry's fundamental argument -- that government affordable housing initiatives caused the financial crisis -- follows a years-old conservative myth that is not supported by the facts.
From the July 12 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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Right-wing media are baselessly attacking the Obama administration by falsely conflating Project Gunrunner, a program of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) that was begun under President Bush, and Operation Fast and Furious, a controversial initiative undertaken by Phoenix's Gunrunner group in which agents knowingly allowed guns to be trafficked across the border to Mexico.
From the July 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday:
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Fox News is baselessly reporting that funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 went to Operation Fast and Furious, a controversial initiative of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) operation Project Gunrunner in which agents knowingly allowed guns to be trafficked across the border to Mexico in order to identify other members of a trafficking network. In fact, stimulus funds earmarked for Project Gunrunner were not distributed in Arizona, where a GOP report indicates Fast and Furious took place.
Before the Senate unanimously confirmed Leon Panetta to head the Department of Defense last month, there was a notable smear simmering in the right-wing fever swamp: Leon Panetta may be a communist.
The story began with a column by Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media, which hinged on "a close and personal relationship" Panetta supposedly had "with a member of the Communist Party by the name of Hugh DeLacy."
Eric Bolling, host of Fox Business Netork's Follow the Money, invited former congressman and failed Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo onto his show to discuss the ongoing investigation into Fast and Furious, the controversial operation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Tancredo, a notoriously intolerant fear-monger, didn't take long to shift the conversation to the topic of race, calling African-American Attorney General Eric Holder "the guy that refuses to prosecute blacks -- black thugs who intimidate people at the polls."
Tancredo's statement is an obvious reference to the long-discredited New Black Panther Party controversy, a voter intimidation case featuring African-American defendants that some conservatives say were let off the hook by the Obama administration. His claim, which echoes a wider conservative narrative that President Obama's administration is racist, is demonstrably false.
In fact, the DOJ obtained a judgment against an African-American defendant in the NBPP case after the Justice Department under President Bush decided not to pursue criminal charges against the NBPP. The Obama DOJ has also requested injunctions against black Democratic Party officials in Mississippi who were found to have discriminated against white voters.
TANCREDO: Eric Holder knows. No other agency of this government is so politicized. Remember this is the guy that refuses to prosecute blacks -- black thugs, who intimidate people at the polls.
There's another, even more I think, insidious -- potentially more insidious -- reason for the, for Operation Gunwalker. I think they wanted guns in Mexico so they could eventually say, "look at the flood of guns from the United States into Mexico causing all this violence. Let's do something about guns in the United States." I think that was behind all of this.
In typical Tancredo fashion, he adds fuel to the fire when he followed up his racially-infused comments with the latest conservative conspiracy theory, claiming that the Obama administration is purposefully allowing guns to enter Mexico in an attempt to gain popular support for tighter gun laws in the U.S. Conservative proponents of the far-out notion admit that they "do not have any direct evidence" of its veracity. Far be it for someone like Tancredo to let something as trivial as "proof" stand in the way of a good sound bite.
The Washington Times published an op-ed by Evan Bayh and Andy Card arguing that "Congress needs to dial back Obama's rule-making machine." However, the Times failed to disclose that Bayh and Card are employed by the Chamber of Commerce to promote its deregulation agenda through media appearances.
A June 2 memo from Chamber President Tom Donohue reported that "the Chamber has recently enlisted former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and former Senator Evan Bayh who will carry a bipartisan message on regulatory reform out around the country through a 'road show' of speeches, events, and media appearances at various local venues."
The op-ed by Bayh and Card echoes Donohue's memo, which outlines how the Chamber will be "making the case for broader regulatory reform" and "telling the story about the dangers and costs of over-regulation."
For instance, Donohue wrote that the Chamber is "working to build support" for the following policies:
Bayh and Card called for similar changes: Passing "legislation in Congress to guarantee an up-or-down vote, with no Senate filibuster, on regulations with an economic impact of more than $100 million," granting citizens "judicial access and tools they need to hold federal agencies accountable for limiting regulatory burdens and for using sound science to support proposed rules," and requiring "more rigorous cost-benefit analysis" with "independent verification."
From the June 28 edition of Fox Business' Freedom Watch:
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Glenn Beck has developed something of a phobia about citizens receiving government aid -- and a propensity for overlooking the fact that some of the folks he likes to portray as living in his idealized America are receiving it anyway.
First, it was Wilmington, Ohio, which Beck asserted "hasn't taken any money from the government" following the closure of the town's biggest employer. In fact, Wilmington and the county it's located in received $13 million in stimulus and emergency funds, and was seeking a $1.5 million federal earmark to refurbish the theater from which Beck did his show late last year.
Then, earlier this month, Beck suggested that tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri, had rejected federal aid. In fact, FEMA responded to the disaster immediately, and state officials praised the federal response.
On the June 28 edition of his radio show, Beck suggested that flooding victims in Minot, North Dakota, didn't need federal aid: "When our town is in trouble like Joplin, will we be strong enough, like Minot, North Dakota, with the floods. There's no cries for FEMA. Ten thousand people displaced. Where are they? Where are they? They're with family and friends."
Beck is misleading his listeners yet again.