US president Barack Obama invoked executive privilege on June 20 to justify the Justice Department’s refusal to provide the House of Representatives with some of its documents relating to Operation Fast and Furious, a bungled program in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) inadvertently let about 2,000 firearms “walk” into Mexico during 2009 and 2010. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had subpoenaed the documents from the Justice Department. The House of Representatives could vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to comply with the subpoena.
The bickering between Democrat Obama and the Republican-controlled House over Fast and Furious comes as Obama campaigns to win reelection on Nov. 6 in what is expected to be a close race with the presumed Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Rep. Issa denies that there is any political motivation in his investigation of Fast and Furious. (La Jornada, Mexico, June 21, from AFP)
Issa and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) vigorously pursued the Fast and Furious investigation last year, but the probe appeared to lose momentum in October when the two Congress members learned that the administration of Republican former president George W. Bush (2001-2009) had run a similar program, Operation Wide Receiver. Another drawback for the investigation was the way it focused attention on the lax gun control laws in the US; these law make it relatively easy to purchase weapons in Southwestern states and then smuggle them to drug cartels in Mexico, where nearly 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since the end of 2006. Issa and Grassley are both strong opponents of gun control.
But recently Fox News and other right-wing media have started promoting a conspiracy theory—originated by Michael Vanderboegh, a blogger reportedly connected to anti-government militias—that makes the Fast and Furious investigation more acceptable to gun control opponents. According to Vanderboegh, the Obama administation purposely let the guns go to the drug cartels so that the resulting bloodbath in Mexico could be used to justify strict federal gun control legislation.
Issa and Grassley have picked up on this idea. Grassley cited it in a television interview, while Issa asked at the National Rifle Association’s April convention: “Could it be that what they really were thinking of was in fact to use this walking of guns in order to promote an assault weapons ban? Many think so.” Issa went further on Fox News. “Very clearly,” he said, “they made a crisis and they’re using this crisis to somehow take away or limit people’s 2nd Amendment rights.” (Los Angeles Times, June 22; New York Times, June 22)
While acknowledging the political motive for the Republicans’ Fast and Furious inquiry, the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada reminded Mexican readers that the Obama administration is in fact holding back information on an operation that “exhibits the government in Washington as a provider of arms for the drug cartels that operate in our country.” The new government elected in Mexico’s presidential and legislative voting on July 1 will “need to analyze seriously the appropriateness of continuing” with the current militarized “war on drugs,” which La Jornada described as “a security strategy promoted by the US that not only has been ineffective in [achieving] its objective and has generated counterproductive effects for the country; it has also implied an unacceptable abandonment of national sovereignty and has exposed Washington’s hypocrisy in its supposed promise to combat narco trafficking and eradicate violence.” (LJ, June 21)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 24.