I was going to flip a coin to decide whether or not to write about the Supreme Court RATS – an acronym a progressive blogger from Daily Kos invented for the veritable barbershop quartet Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia have become since the four of them are almost always singing in harmony – until I read this account of Fast and Furious by FORTUNE magazine writer Katherine Eban, who reviewed over 2000 documents and interviewed 39 people involved in the botched ATF operation.
Ordinarily, I would see this as another one of those tit-for-tat efforts that was meant to take the sting out of the assertions of Justice Department malfeasance. Since the House Oversight Committee and Congressional Republicans have all but convicted Holder and the Obama Administration of wrongdoing, even though they, by their own admission, have not seen all of the evidence, many on the left have been trying desperately to bring some sense of proportion to the charges being leveled against the attorney general and the president.
Quite simply, there’s a fundamental misconception at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal. Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.
Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.
But House Oversight Committee chairman Darrel Issa’s reluctant admission on national television last Sunday that there was no evidence that the White House had any involvement in Fast and Furious operation was the kind of eye-opener confirming my suspicions that this was a classic case of Republican overreach. This makes the vote to find Holder in contempt of Congress the more interesting of today’s two main political events, mostly because no one knows where this is going to lead. By contrast, the possible outcomes of the Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act have been game planned by both political parties and an army of insurance industry lobbyists practically from the law’s inception.
The reason why the rest of us have to suffer through this has practically nothing to do with the death of ATF Agent Brian Terry. You would think, given the number of times Republicans have invoked his name in the last few months that Agent Terry would warrant a legislative effort to memorialize his death in the way that the Brady Bill came to be after Reagan press secretary James Brady was shot in the head. Or at the very least, you might expect the House GOP to pass some new laws that would give harsh sentences to those who are caught trafficking guns. But you can bet that any practical, mundane, common sense types of actions that might help our law enforcement do their jobs better will not be proposed during the remainder of this term of Congress.
The Republican Party knows the same thing comic book publishers know – that you can’t have a superhero without supervillians. And Eric Holder has become the latest in a long line of high profile Democrats who have been chosen by Republicans to be the evil genius of the year they are dedicated to eradicating.