February 3, 2012

D.C. politicos blaming Ariz.

As expected, Democrats and Republicans in Washington are teaming up...

... to point fingers at distant strangers in Arizona to serve as fall guys for the deadly Operation Fast and Furious scandal.

Democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have released a 95-page report that they claim exonerates the Obama administration's Justice Department of responsibility for the "gun walking" scandal that allowed up to 1,400 weapons bought from Arizona gun dealers to just disappear into Mexico.

The report came out two days before Attorney General Eric Holder's appearance on Thursday before the GOP-led committee.

Much of it is a rehash of thousands of documents already released in the Fast and Furious investigation, albeit with a twist in its conclusion about the available evidence: None of it, according to the Democrats' report, indicates "that Operation Fast & Furious was conceived or directed by high-level political appointees at Department of Justice headquarters." Rather, it was the product of rogue operatives in Phoenix.

The buck-passing doesn't stop there. In addition to claiming the agents in Arizona concocted, on their own, a plan to allow high-powered weapons simply to disappear, the House Democrats contend Fast and Furious was merely an extension of gun-tracing operations during the George W. Bush administration.

The attempt to register a Bush connection glosses over some obvious distinctions.

The much-smaller Bush-era operations were tracing operations that, crucially, made every effort to track the guns, including involving Mexican authorities. Fast and Furious is a scandal precisely because it allegedly let hundreds of weapons just disappear.

But more to the point, the report released by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., is most instructive for what it doesn't include: the substantial body of evidence that high-level Justice Department officials really were aware, and regularly briefed, on everything happening on the scene in Arizona.

How aware? Evidence has surfaced in the House hearings that the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a division of Holder's Justice Department, had watched on live video surveillance feeds as so-called "straw buyers" bought dozens of semi-automatic AK-47 variant weapons in Arizona.

Democrats have signaled for weeks their intent to throw Arizona Justice Department officials under the bus in order to save the hides of their Obama administration allies. With the Cummings report, they now are acting on those heartless plans.

The only heads to roll in this scandal thus far are Phoenix heads. U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke resigned in August, followed this month by the head of his criminal division, Patrick Cunningham.

Cunningham, notably, didn't even come on board at the Phoenix office until 2010, months after Fast and Furious had begun. This is a "rogue" operative?

But it gets worse. Republicans on the committee have evidence that Holder's top aide, Lanny Breuer, admitted having known about gun walking in the Fast and Furious operation as early as April 2010, or about the time Cunningham arrived.

You would think that sort of evidence would make it clear to the GOP investigators, at least, that Fast and Furious was a top-down operation. You would be wrong. The Republicans on the committee have accused Cunningham of significant responsibility for the sting operation ... based on carefully selected memos released by the Democrats in charge at Justice.

The Fast and Furious investigation is a classic Washington clash of titans in which only the lesser beings get crushed.

The Republicans' intent is clear. They are using the committee's subpoena power to pressure the small fry in Phoenix to turn on their Washington superiors. Unfortunately, it is the Washington titans who control the real evidence.

As Holder told the committee on Thursday, he will "consider" releasing the thousands of pages of documents the Republicans demand.

He'll consider it. In the meanwhile, the people under subpoena in Phoenix twist in the wind, contemplating their lack of income and their growing lawyer bills.

The path toward cracking open Eric Holder's involvement in directing Fast and Furious -- whatever it may be -- is through Eric Holder and those around him.

If House Republicans truly believe Holder and his top aides were complicit in a foul deed, they need to get Holder to cough up the evidence that proves it.

Field officers in Phoenix aren't going to provide it.

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