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Holder claims Executive Privilege, but it smells like a cover-up

by George Landrith and Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which is part of the Department of Justice, ran “gun-walking” operations in which government agents knowingly allowed and facilitated the sale of thousands of guns to gunrunners working for the Mexican drug cartels beginning as early as 2006 and continuing through 2011. This operation became known as Operation Fast and Furious. Hundreds of those Fast and Furious guns have been used in a long litany of drug-related murders along both sides of our southern border. On December 14, 2010, U.S. Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry, was killed near the border in Arizona in a shootout with drug cartel members who had guns provided by the ATF. Hundreds of Fast and Furious guns are still in the hands of Mexican drug cartel thugs.

This is not the first time the ATF is responsible for reckless operations that ended in tragic and needless loss of innocent life. Randy Weaver was charged with violating gun laws after he refused to be a government informant. FBI Deputy Assistant Director wrote at the time that the charges against Weaver were “B.S.” Nonetheless, at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, ATF agents surrounded the rustic and remote home of Weaver in the mountains and shot and killed his 14 year old son, Sammy, and his wife, Vicki. Sammy was shot in the back. Vicki was shot in the head by a sniper while holding a 10 month-old baby. Weaver was ultimately acquitted of the gun charges. Subsequently, the government’s own investigation admitted serious wrong-doing and the government paid the Weavers a multimillion dollar settlement.

The ATF also bungled what should have been a routine arrest of David Koresh while he ran errands alone in Waco. Instead, the ATF raided his compound where there were families and women and children. After a long siege of the compound, 76 people burned to death in a fire many believe was set by government agents. Among the dead were 17 children. High tech government video showed government agents firing automatic weapons into the burning buildings and many of the dead had gun shot wounds. Attorney General Janet Reno tried to justify the raid and siege with claims of child abuse inside the compound. However, those claims did not hold up to scrutiny and the FBI director later admitted they were without legal merit. Moreover, the ATF has absolutely no jurisdiction over child abuse cases so it seems curious that would be the justification for the raid. It appears the claims of child abuse were designed merely to build public support for the government’s siege. A government-funded investigation exonerated the government of wrongdoing. However, independent investigations refute those findings and lay blame squarely on the government.

With the recent revelations of ATF gun-running, and the ATF’s history of rogue operations, it is fair to ask why do we even have the ATF? Why can’t state police and the FBI enforce gun and alcohol laws? The ATF has proven over and over again, that it is an out of control government agency whose massive screw-ups end up in the deaths of innocent people. Whatever the ATF is responsible for doing should be folded into the FBI and state law enforcement.

Why would the ATF run guns to Mexican drug cartel operatives? The result is over 200 murdered Mexicans and the death of Brian Terry, an American border agent. Congress has asked these very questions, but Eric Holder seems determined to prevent Congress from getting to the truth. Once Congress received a tip about Fast and Furious from a whistle-blower at the Department of Justice, Holder unequivocally denied that he or any other high level Obama officials had any knowledge or involvement of the program. President Obama denied that either he or Holder had authorized the program or had any previous knowledge of it, having just learned of it in the news. Shortly thereafter, Holder testified to Congress that the first he had hear of the fast and furious operation was only weeks before.

Those claims are now looking increasingly unlikely as whistle blowers provided Congress with documents showing that Eric Holder has been briefed on Fast and Furious at least nine months before he claimed to have even heard about it. As a result, Congress issued a subpoena for documents on the gun-running operation. Now, about eight months later, Eric Holder is still refusing to provide the subpoenaed documents. Literally five minutes before a congressional committee was scheduled to vote on a contempt order for refusing to provide the subpoenaed documents, Obama for the first time claimed that the documents were protected by Executive Privilege despite never making that claim in the previous eight months when there were disputes about providing the documents.

Obama and Holder are hiding something. Claiming executive privilege — particularly at this late hour — is strong evidence of a cover-up. Claiming executive privilege requires Obama to admit that these documents were part of briefings to the President to help him in a deliberative and decision making role. But obviously, if neither Holder nor Obama had ever heard anything about Fast and Furious as they claim, these documents could not possibly qualify for the privilege. Moreover, the documents are not likely to be about military, diplomatic or sensitive national security matters — another requirement before executive privilege can be claimed.

Obama’s claim of privilege appears to be designed to delay Americans from learning before the election the truth about his involvement in the gun-running operation. It will take the courts at least a year to resolve this dispute — well after the upcoming election. Once the courts look at Obama’s bogus claim of privilege, it will be struck down just as Richard Nixon’s attempts to hide the facts behind Watergate were struck down. Not even President Obama is above the law.

So what will the documents that Obama hopes to hide likely reveal? First, they will likely answer the question — what did Obama know and when did he know it? Second, they will likely reveal that Holder and Obama knew about the gun-running program and at the very least allowed it to go forward. Third, they may reveal that Obama approved the gun-running because Obama’s political team hoped a crime wave along the border caused by illegal guns could be used to build a public outcry for more restrictive gun laws which Holder and Obama strongly support. Fourth, they will likely reveal a high level coverup and an attempt to suppress evidence and silence the whistleblowers.

Obama hopes to delay full disclosure because the murder of a border control agent and hundreds of Mexicans by drug cartel thugs armed by the U.S. government is a scandal far more serious and damaging than Watergate. Thus, like Nixon, Obama hopes to hide the truth and survive the upcoming election. After November, Obama hopes to do what Nixon could not do — continue to keep the truth from coming to light, ride out the storm, and complete his second term. Ultimately, American voters will decide if this is an acceptable plan — particularly from a man who promised his presidency would be “the most open and transparent in history.”

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George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. In 1994 and 1996, Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.

Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi is the vice president of foreign policy of Frontiers of Freedom.