There’s been a lot of commentary, obviously, about the information found in the latest Department of Justice Friday afternoon email dump with regards to the administration’s catastrophic Operation Fast & Furious. For those who need a reminder, OF&F was a program by which political appointees in the Obama administration ignored federal rules and basic common sense in order to facilitate the illegal resale of firearms to Mexican narco-terrorist groups. This was not done so much without proper safeguards as it was done with essentially no safeguards at all; and the program only stopped when OF&F guns appeared at the murder scene of Border Agent Brian Terry’s. Since then, the Justice Department in general – and Attorney General Eric Holder in particular – have been spinning this very much as their careers depended on it, going to far as to claim that they were unaware of the very problem until about the same time that it entered the public consciousness.
These emails contradict that narrative: as of yet, however, they do not convict the Attorney General of being anything except a slack-jawed mouth-breather who was and is so intellectually incurious that he apparently spends his entire work day locked in his office, rocking back and forth on his chair, and humming tunelessly. Or, to break the monotony, occasionally drool.
While this defense may seem undignified of Holder: hey, it beats going to jail.
Let me explain what the emails say. They show that Holder’s then-deputy Chief of Staff (this is what NPR calls an ‘aide’) Monty Wilkinson was informed of the connection between Operation Fast & Furious and Agent Terry’s death the day after Terry died. This would be expected to directly contradict Holder’s claim that he only knew about the operation several weeks before Congress started asking pointed questions. For that matter, it would also directly contradict Holder’s later revision that he only knew about OF&F a couple of months prior (that latter will cover somebody until about February or so; it won’t stretch to the previous year). However, back in October we learned that emails had been circulating – and sent to AG Holder – discussing the doomed operation; Holder’s response to that was that he did not read the emails, and his response to this will probably be that he did not get briefed by his staff. That would make him about the only person in the Department of Justice who was not briefed. Hence the ‘slack-jawed, drooling incompetent’ thing earlier: right now, Holder’s only hope for avoiding the need for a Presidential pardon is to look like a buffoon. And absent an email coming from Holder himself on this matter, he has a better chance than you may think of getting away with it. God knows that this administration is well-stocked with incompetent buffoons.
Let me finish this up by telling you what I think really happened with Operation Fast & Furious. I think what really happened was that, back in 2009, the new crop of political appointees in the Department of Justice got on board, realized that BATF & DEA operations were actually nothing like they’re portrayed as being in the movies, and then decided to ‘fix’ that by setting up flashy cowboy operations. Being as ignorant of existing procedures as a hog is ignorant of calculus, they came up with a plan to boost illegal gun sale arrests by boosting illegal gun sales, and merrily ignored the increasingly-panicky requests from the people on the scene who had to try to make this policy work. Because the people on the scene were always going to make sure that the plan succeeded, right? – No matter how stupid the plan was. After all, it was the people on the scene’s careers at risk, too. Simple self-interest would suffice to ensure a favorable result, in other words.
And that attitude might even have worked. It is the nature of bureaucracies to divide up blame and translate individual petty ambitions and goals into a never explicitly defined consensus policy that conducts business, more or less, while managing to avoid offending too many people. And that is honestly not the worst thing in the world, particularly when you contemplate the governing styles of barbarians. But the thing is this: we tolerate bureaucratic shenanigans right up to the moment that someone entangled in them gets killed. When that happens, the natural inclination of the American people is to find the person in charge, and make a salutary example of him or her. And all the career bureaucrats and/or government workers who had been previously eager to make a bad policy work somehow will now be equally eager to make sure that they don’t get blamed for a decision that was frankly above their pay grade anyway. Thus the unseemly scramble that we’ve seen here.
I like this scenario, for several reasons. One, it doesn’t require any kind of conspiracy theory (honestly, the caliber of political appointees under this administration isn’t really up to the task of carrying off a successful conspiracy) about wanting to take guns away to work. Holder’s Justice Department might have thought that they were fighting the illegal gun trade this way. They were stupid, wrong, and got people killed: move on. Two, it doesn’t actually require it be proven that Attorney General Holder was directly linked to it. If his management style really is to not read the memos on his desk and not listen to his staff briefings, then he needs to resign anyway, and to take his senior staff with [him]. People got killed: move on. Third and last, if it does turn out that we have proof of either a conspiracy and/or Holder’s direct involvement in the operation then we can continue to proceed. Put another way: the facts on the ground are already damning enough to justify a thoroughgoing purge of the Justice Department’s political appointees, starting with the Attorney General and working our way down.
I mean, I understand that it’d be fun to see Holder marched off to jail, but it’s not going to happen: Obama would just pardon him anyway…
Moe Lane (crosspost)