Some politicians, bureaucrat never learn from prior scandals
August 1, 2011
by Joseph P. Tartaro
The Operation Fast and Furious scandal may stun some observers, but it shouldn’t. There have been government scandals beforeand in many countries. In the US they bubble up slowly as the general media and the public take increasing interest and more and more information leaks out.
At their worst, such scandals may lead to impeachment proceedings, as was the case with Bill Clinton. At other times, as in the Watergate scandal when Richard Nixon finally resigned, other resolutions are found. An often, some highly placed people lose their government jobs as the fall guys.
Perhaps that last lesson explains why Kenneth Melson, the acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), chose to testify before congressional probers with his personal attorney rather than a Department of Justice staffer. Melson had been a career Justice Department employee for over 20 years before he became an interim political appointee. There had even been some earlier Capitol Hill reports indicating that Melson might be fired as the “designated fall guy.”
Government scandals such as Fast and Furious usually start out in a darkened government incubator away from public view, involving elected officials and their political appointees, before media light is shed upon the government’s operation.
The public pretty much knows the drill, but some officials still seem to be able to express “shock” when faced with public revelations of dissembling. Perhaps that’s because most professional politicians apparently don’t read thriller novels, muckraker non-fiction, or similar movie and TV shows. The plot is always basically the same, with some variations. Politicians scheme behind closed doors; word gets out; the media spills the beans, and the cover-up begins.
Government plotters should bear in mind that no matter how heinous the crime, the cover-up makes it even worse. The Watergate break-in, while a crime, only affected the presidency because of the cover-up. Clinton’s extramarital affair wasn’t a national crime until he lied and Monica-gate got more toxic with the cover-efforts. It wasn’t the Monica encounters that led to Clinton’s impeachment trial, but the cover-up.
With those lessons in mind, you would think that the Obama administration would not make matters worse with a cover-up attempt of the botched Fast and Furious. While that operation involves ATF it seems to have been run under the guidance from the highest level of the Department of Justice (DoJ), if not even higher, in the White House.
If you have been following the Fast and Furious story as it has been unfolding in these pages over many weeks and issues, you know that the vapors from the Department of Justice’s scandalous operation keep rising higher and higher.
The first news about operation Fast and Furious came only from a couple of Internet investigators. Then Gun Week’s Dave Workman got onto the story, followed by CBS News, and eventually other national media.
In addition to other stories about the congressional probe of Fast and Furious in this issue, Workman, who has been following and reporting on this unfolding scandal almost from the beginning, now reports that there are even more twists and turns to the plot of this story. Workman reports that a Florida congressman has launched yet another investigation into an alleged gun running scheme that may have put more than 1,000 guns into the hands of criminals, this time in Honduras, in a case involving a decorated Vietnam War veteran.
According to the Tampa Tribune, Hugh Crumpler III has acknowledged to authorities that he illegally sold about 1,000 firearms to people in Honduras and other Central and South American countries.
His identity surfaced as a result of Operation Castaway, which began in mid-2009 as a project involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Miami-Dade Police Department and the sheriff’s departments in three Florida counties, according to the Tampa Tribune.
Operation Castaway apparently followed the same script as Fast and Furious.
Crumpler was actually a target of the operation, according to the newspaper. Now one Florida Congressman, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Palm Harbor), is asking questions about Castaway. He wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder asking if Castaway “allowed weapons to be trafficked to Honduras.”
There may be some merit to his inquiry, Workman reports. A spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Grassley, one of the two lead Capitol Hill players in the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious, said Grassley’s office is “looking into allegations that Operation Castaway incorporated the same policies as Fast and Furious.”
Bilirakis wants to know if the ATF allowed guns to be trafficked without monitoring, and whether those guns were allowed to fall into the wrong hands. In his letter to Holder, he wrote that it was “troubling” that a government agency would “willfully allow” guns to be acquired by criminals.
The newspaper said Crumpler had been selling guns since 2007, which is two years before Operation Fast and Furious was launched, but while the earlier Operation Gunrunner was up and running. His activities included the purchase of more than 525 handguns in 62 different Florida transactions with federally licensed firearms retailers. Many of those guns subsequently were later involved in crimes.
Also, reports from Minnesota dating back to 2010 show that the gunrunning into Mexico does not center only on four Southwestern states. It also illustrates that informers for one government agency may be interfering with the plans of another agency, and that cooperation is not always standard. (More about the Minnesota case in the next issue.)
Workman’s latest report says, “The controversy surrounding a botched gun trafficking sting operation mounted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spread even wider with the recent revelation that the Justice Department allegedly allowed potential witnesses to see documents related to the case via a computer link, potentially tainting their testimony.”
Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Grassley (R-IA) have also come under fire for making their investigation a politically partisan inquiry mounted only to damage the Obama administration.
In the midst of the storm, freshman Congressman Allen West (R-FL), one of two African-American Republicans in the House, called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign over the Fast and Furious debacle.
Issa and Grassley disclosed the possible witness “tainting” in a letter to Holder, in which they state, “We have recently learned that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has afforded potential witnesses for the Committees’ investigation into Operation Fast and Furious access to a shared drive on its computer system replete with pertinent investigative documents, including official ATF e-mails.”
“Although our staff has been advised the Department has since terminated access to this document cache,” they continued, “we write to seek additional information relating to this egregious decision. We also ask that you promptly self-report this matter to the Office of Inspector General (OIG).”
Issa chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has been conducting hearings on the discredited Fast and Furious. Grassley is ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The two Capitol Hill veterans told Holder that it was their understanding the shared computer drive contained documents that had been provided to Issa’s House committee and to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because the witnesses had not previously seen the documents, they asserted that access to the files prior to appearing before the House committee to give sworn testimony could taint what the witnesses said.
Fast and Furious has become something of an octopus. There may be more tentacles than anyone can imagine. But trying to cover-up what’s happened, and who’s responsible, is only making matters worse.