Obama administration officials must remind each other daily that they will never have to accept responsibility for anything that goes wrong on their watch as long as they can find some way to blame their troubles on George W. Bush.
So it should surprise no one that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and the administration’s surrogates are vociferously claiming that Operation Fast and Furious, the gun-walking scandal run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is all Mr. Bush’s fault. Fast and Furious was a program that resulted in Congress holding Mr. Holder in contempt for lying, put a couple thousand guns into the hands of Mexican drug gangs and led to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent and as many as 200 Mexicans.
Obama spokesmen claim it all began under Mr. Bush and a little-known operation also run out of Phoenix, dubbed Operation Wide Receiver. The Bush-era program involved a few hundred guns and was designed and run by U.S. and Mexican agents who planted electronic tracking devices in the guns so the agents could follow the guns on both sides of the border. The idea was to compile evidence that could be used to prosecute gang kingpins.
A few of the guns vanished, however, as some of the batteries powering the implanted tracking devices failed, and in a few cases, gang members discovered and destroyed the devices. As soon as this was reported to Washington, the whole operation was canceled to prevent more guns from falling into the wrong hands. A vast majority of the guns involved were traced and retrieved; no one was killed; and the project was shelved as a bad idea.
Two years later, many of the same ATF and Justice Department officials in Phoenix came up with and launched a very different program they called Fast and Furious. Straw purchasers were allowed to buy more than 2,000 guns from dealers along our southern border who were pressured by government officials to look the other way. There was no attempt to trace or follow the guns; the Mexican government was not informed of the operation; and even ATF’s own agents in Mexico were kept in the dark.
No actionable criminal evidence against anyone was obtained, and agents who wanted to arrest middlemen before the guns walked were ordered to stand down. The program turned into a pipeline that provided arms to the Sinola drug cartel for use by the gang’s enforcers and drug smugglers.
The media continually refer to Fast and Furious as a botched operation, but the law enforcement purpose of the scheme never made much sense. It was never designed to enable anyone on either side of the border to trace firearms. Guns simply were handed over to criminal gangs so U.S. officials later could see how many of them turned up at crime scenes. For this to happen, they had to hope the guns would actually be used by the cartels. Gang members don’t throw away their guns for no reason, but when they use them in a crime, they discard them so authorities can’t tie them to the crime.
The American guns began showing up all over Mexico as civilians and criminals alike were gunned down. When one was found at the site of a fatal gunbattle that left U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry dead, the agent running the show reportedly dismissed his colleague’s horror at what had happened by observing, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”
Whether someone at the Justice Department or deep in the bowels of the ATF dreamed up Fast and Furious is less important than what happened when higher-ups at Justice and the White House learned about it. Among the inquiries congressional investigators have spent 18 months conducting is whether administration officials attempted to use the fact that the guns were showing up at crime scenes as a means of building support for new gun-control laws.
The scheme might have worked but for a few honest agents who went to CBS News and to Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican. The Obama administration tried first to deny everything and discredit the whistleblowers; officials blamed it on out-of-control career bureaucrats and criminal gun dealers, and finally, they blamed Mr. Bush as part of a cover-up that continues to this day.
On Nov. 8, 2011, however, when it still looked as if stonewalling alone might work, the attorney general admitted before the Senate Judiciary Committee that there was no relationship between Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious, and he claimed he would never try to equate the two programs. That, of course, was then - before all else had failed and it was time once again to blame Mr. Bush for an Obama administration scheme that went bad.
David A. Keene is president of the NRA,former chairman of the American Conservative Union and a member of the board of the ACU, the Constitution Project and the Center for the National Interest.