The Justice Department’s effort to contain the Operation Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal is crumbling. Members of Congress are demanding full disclosure regarding the bizarre scheme to funnel guns to Mexican drug cartels, supposedly to help sniff out the higher-level bad guys. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. isn’t helping congressional investigators understand the rationale behind this breathtakingly dumb idea.
The so-called Fast and Furious program fit right in with the White House contention that gun shops in the Southwest have been contributing to violence in Mexico. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), part of the Justice Department, started the operation as a sting to arrest purchasers in border states who purportedly were engaging in illegal cross-border arms trafficking. The scheme spun out of control, and the agency reportedly wound up telling gun dealers to proceed with sales even after dealers had raised red flags about certain buyers. In this way, the ATF may have become an accomplice to the smuggling of some 1,700 weapons into Mexico, allegedly leading to the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry near Nogales, Ariz., in December 2010. Two Fast and Furious weapons were discovered at that crime scene, and other such weapons have been found after the deaths of untold numbers of Mexican citizens.
The botched operation provided ammunition for administration officials intent on exploiting any excuse to demand expanded gun-control measures. The White House often claimed that 90 percent of the weapons used in Mexican crimes had been traced to the United States, but the number has never been substantiated. By all appearances, Fast and Furious delivered statistics to back up the figure. Not surprisingly, the Justice Department pounced on the issue Monday. It issued a regulation requiring gun shops in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California to report purchases of multiple rifles made within a five-day period. The timing of the new mandate seems a little too convenient, as it’s not yet clear how much of this supposed gunrunning “problem” originates in Washington.
Fox News reported Monday that the family of slain agent Terry is considering suing the federal government for negligence in his death. If the suit goes forward, Mr. Holder could find himself testifying under oath about his role in Operation Fast and Furious. Alternatively, Rep. Allen B. West, Florida Republican, has called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to cut through the Justice Department’s information blockade regarding the agency’s complicity in the smuggling plot.
Since the Watergate scandal nearly four decades ago, political embarrassments have been tagged with a “gate” moniker to recall the episode that brought down the Nixon administration. To be sure, Mr. Holder doesn’t want to be saddled with “Gungate” or any other description the media devises. Better that he come clean now and cooperate fully with the oversight efforts of Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican.