Today the United States House of Representatives will vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. The push for a contempt citation followed a lengthy investigation by the House Oversight Committee into Holder's supposed role in the failed ATF Fast and Furious operation, in which, according to whistleblowers, the agency allowed guns to be trafficked across the border as part of an investigation intended to take down a Mexican drug cartel.
Throughout the investigation members of the right-wing media have engaged in numerous distortions about Fast and Furious while sycophantically parroting allegations made by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee. Below some of these narratives are examined and debunked.
Fast And Furious Was Not Conceived By The Obama Administration As A Nefarious Plot Against The Second Amendment
The National Rifle Association is one of the primary promoters of the conspiracy theory that Operation Fast and Furious was designed to create violence in Mexico, which in turn would be pointed to by the Obama administration as the justification for more restrictive gun laws, a bizarre claim that has gained a solid foothold in the right-wing media's Fast and Furious narrative. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has frequently told his listeners that the failed ATF operation was a premeditated “attack on the Second Amendment,” citing this theory.
But none of the people promoting this theory have ever provided any hard evidence to prove its existence. Townhall News Editor Katie Pavlich breathlessly hashed out the conspiracy theory in her book, Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover-up, on the shaky premise that the fact that some members of the Obama administration have supported gun violence prevention measures was evidence enough of an anti-Second Amendment plot. But even Fox News host Bill O'Reilly dismissed such claims as a “conspiracy thing.” And for good reason; the “evidence” offered by Pavlich and other promoters is circumstantial and the theory's logic entirely speculative. In fact, Obama has expanded, rather than restricted, the right to carry a gun during his first term.
President Obama's Assertion Of Executive Privilege Does Not Mean That He Was Involved In The Design Or Management Of Fast And Furious
When Obama asserted executive privilege over a set of internal Department of Justice (DOJ) documents on June 20, Fox News was quick to push the narrative -- straight from the GOP spin room -- that the president's use of privilege implied something sinister was afoot at the White House. As Happening Now guest host Gregg Jarrett put it, “If the president was not involved then executive privilege does not apply. If the president was involved, then three things, either Holder was not telling the truth in front of Congress, and or the White House was not telling the truth when it denied the White House and the president were involved, and the president himself may have not been telling the truth when he made statements.”
There are two problems with this argument. First, Obama only asserted executive privilege over documents generated after February 4, 2011. Fast and Furious was terminated in January 2011. According to the letter that DOJ sent to Obama asking the president to assert his privilege, the documents in question “were created after the investigative tactic at issue in that operation had terminated and in the course of the Department's deliberative process concerning how to respond to congressional and related media inquiries into that operation.”
Secondly, presidents have traditionally asserted executive privilege over matters in which they are not personally involved. When President George W. Bush first used executive privilege in December 2001, he acted to shield internal DOJ documents. In a separate instance in 2008, his Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, advised the president that he could shield Environmental Protection Agency documents because "[t]he doctrine of executive privilege also encompasses Executive Branch deliberative communications that do not implicate presidential decisionmaking."
No Evidence Top DOJ Officials Were Aware Of Controversial Tactics Allegedly Employed During Fast And Furious
While a purported goal in the House Oversight Committee's investigation into Fast and Furious is to uncover any high level Department of Justice officials who were aware that agents were allegedly allowing guns to “walk” across the United States border with Mexico, such an official has yet to be identified. Members of right-wing media have pointed to a set of wiretap applications that Republicans say describe the gun walking tactic. Democrats who have seen the documents, which remain under seal, say the tactic is not described. The Republican's word was good enough for conspiracy theorist Andrew C. McCarthy, who recently appeared on Fox News and discussed the wiretap applications as the basis for his speculation that top officials were involved.
As Media Matters has previously noted, even if the wiretap applications did detail gunwalking tactics, DOJ has consistently said that top DOJ officials don't actually review the documents, but rather summaries composed by line attorneys that deal solely with the necessity and probable cause of the wiretap.
House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) has even acknowledged, in testimony before the House Rules Committee, that he has “no evidence” or even a “strong suspicion” that Holder was aware of the gunwalking tactics allegedly used in Fast and Furious.
DOJ Has Attempted To Satisfy Congress' Subpoena
The most prominent conservative media figure shamelessly cheerleading the Republican investigators is Daily Caller "reporter" Matthew Boyle. One line that frequently appears in Boyle's reports is “Holder has demonstrably failed to comply with all 22 parts of a congressional subpoena that House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa served him last October. With respect to 13 of the subpoena's categories, Holder has provided no documents. He is not fully compliant with the subpoena's other sections, either.”
The assertion in the Draft Resolution (p. 14) that the Department [of Justice] has provided documents only for 10 of the 22 subpoena items is incorrect. In fact, the Department has produced or made available for review documents responsive to 16 of the 22 subpoena items. As to 13 of these items, we delivered the documents to the [House Oversight] Committee or made them available for staff review (subpoena items 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, and 21). We provided access to documents responsive to three additional items (subpoena items 15, 17, and 18) in the course of briefings on sensitive law enforcement matters on October 5, 2011 and on subsequent occasions, as referenced in Section IV(C) below. We have not located any documents responsive to a 17th item (subpoena item 3). The documents responsive to the five remaining items (subpoena items 8, 9, 16, 19, and 22), as well as additional documents responsive to the other 16 items of the October 11 subpoena, pertain to sensitive law enforcement activities, including ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions that raise significant concerns for the Department, as discussed in Section III(A) below, or are materials generated by Department officials in the course of responding to congressional investigations or media inquiries about this matter that are generally not appropriate for disclosure, as discussed in Section III(B) below.
Additionally, this past week DOJ "promised to provide hundreds of pages of documents" describing how DOJ initially reached an inaccurate conclusion when describing tactics used in Fast and Furious in a February 2011 letter to Congress if the House Oversight Committee would halt the contempt proceedings. This offer was rejected by Issa.