It’s been nearly four decades since Watergate, so perhaps we should not be surprised that memories have faded about one of the crucial lessons of that scandal: The cover-up is always worse than the original crime. This amnesia even affects law enforcement officials, notably Attorney General Eric Holder and others in the Justice Department.
Evidence turned up by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests these officials knew a great deal more about Operation Fast and Furious than they have so far admitted. Fast and Furious was the outrageous program implemented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in which firearms were intentionally sold in the U.S. to agents of Mexican drug cartels. The idea was that the guns would be traced to cartel “higher-ups” after being used in crimes and thereby strengthen law enforcement investigations and prosecutions in the U.S. and Mexico.
However, it’s become clear the operation didn’t work as intended. Weapons that were sold with ATF approval, including assault rifles and other highly dangerous firearms, have since been used in nearly two dozen murders on both sides of the border, including that of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in Arizona a few days before Christmas.
In the aftermath of the Terry killing, the program was shut down and top Justice Department officials denied knowing anything about Fast and Furious. But ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson has described multiple oral and written communications he had with senior Justice officials about the program both before and after Terry was killed.
And that’s where the cover-up becomes relevant. The House panel has run into a wall of evasion, delay and resistance from the Justice Department to all requests for information and documents concerning Fast and Furious.
In a letter to Holder earlier this week, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, said Melson told congressional investigators the “ATF’s senior leadership would have preferred to be far more cooperative with our inquiry much earlier in the process. However, he said that Justice Department officials directed them not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests to Congress.”
We look forward to hearing the explanations of Justice Department higher-ups who allegedly told Melson not to respond to the panel’s requests and who, according to Issa, thereby “sent over false denials” and “distorted the truth and obstructed our investigation.” We also might find out what they were so determined to keep from Issa.