Stirring extreme partisanship together with rightist paranoia, Rep. Darrell Issa and his Republican colleagues on the House Government Operations Committee have transformed a legitimate investigation into a breach of Constitutional authority and a danger to law enforcement. With Wednesday’s vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt – for refusing to turn over every document demanded in the committee’s probe of the Justice Department’s “Operation Fast and Furious” gunrunning sting – the reckless Issa invited attention to his own aims and tactics, which cannot withstand much scrutiny.
There was little expectation of scrupulous conduct from Issa, who upon assuming the committee chair announced plans to hold “seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks” to “measure [the] failure” of the Obama administration. While he hasn’t achieved that supersized goal, his blustering tone was telling. He has turned a sober and important committee into a parody of Fox Nation. And now with his most ambitious probe unable to find any evidence of wrongdoing by Holder, he is abusing Congressional power to distract from his own failure.
The Fast and Furious fiasco originated during the Bush administration, when agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms decided to track illegal gun sales by U.S. dealers to Mexican drug cartels by allowing weapons to be “walked” across the border. The agents hoped that with the cooperation of Mexican police, they would be able to make major conspiracy cases rather than merely arresting a few dealers or smugglers. But the operation blew up when two of the weapons permitted to be “walked” by a small-time dealer were identified at an Arizona shootout where a Border Patrol agent was killed.