When the House voted last Thursday to find Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress, members of the Congressional Black Caucus walked out.
Why is the Black Caucus trying to make this about race?
It’s about Holder’s refusal to turn over Justice Department documents requested by the House Oversight and Government Committee in its investigation of the “Fast and Furious” operation.
“Fast and Furious” was a “gun-walking” operation conducted by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). ATF would allow known smugglers to purchase arms from dealers in Arizona with the idea that they would trace them to their destination to operatives in drug cartels in Mexico.
Before the vote, Black Caucus chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) appeared on CNN calling the House contempt vote “....silly and detrimental to one human being.” On MSNBC he told Al Sharpton, “This is partisanship at its most base level.”
Sure, it’s an election year. And if you had to stretch to appreciate the complaint against Holder being made by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif), chairman of the House committee doing the investigation, you might buy Cleaver’s claim that this is just Republican political grandstanding.
But you don’t have to stretch to appreciate the case against Holder.
It seems pretty clear that “Fast and Furious” was a botched operation. The ATF lost track of some two thousand weapons that disappeared into the hands of criminals in Mexico. In December 2010, weapons traced to this operation were found on smugglers who murdered U.S. Border Agent Brian Terry. Others were tied to the murder of at least 200 Mexican citizens.
The investigation into these ATF activities began with inquiries by ranking Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) after Agent Terry’s murder.
The Justice Department, in a letter to Senator Grassley, initially denied the existence of gun-walking operations. But this picture changed when ATF whistleblowers brought facts to the contrary to light. Subsequently, Justice withdrew its letter, saying its denial of the existence of these operations was mistaken.
Inconsistencies in Holder’s testimony before the House committee produced further reasons for suspicion. And then Holder’s stonewalling for months, refusing to produce the documentation that the House committee requested.
Whether there is a fire here remains to be seen. But there is plenty of smoke.