In her new book, Fast and Furious: Barack Obama’s Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover-up, Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich offers up a number of false and misleading claims about the ATF’s fatally flawed Operation Fast and Furious. In doing so Pavlich baselessly suggests that high-ranking Justice Department officials were aware of that operation’s use of the tactic of gunwalking, in which agents knowingly allowed guns to be trafficked across the border to Mexico in order to identify other members of a trafficking network.
Pavlich Dubiously Played Up Importance Of Holder’s “Brief[ings]” On Fast And Furious
CLAIM: Attorney General Eric Holder “Was Briefed At Least Five Times On” Fast And Furious.From the book:
Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder, their ultimate boss, was finding that his testimony denying any knowledge of Fast and Furious before it was reported in the newspapers was fast unraveling.
On October 3, 2011, the Justice Department finally released a tranche of long-sought documents. Among them were memos demonstrating that Attorney General Holder was briefed on Operation Fast and Furious on a regular basis starting as early as July 5, 2010. According to the documents, Holder was briefed at least five times on the program
Holder responded by saying he never read the memos and blamed his staff for failing to inform him about Fast and Furious. To “clarify” his earlier testimony, Holder sent a letter to the House Oversight Committee:
Much has been made in the past few days about my congressional testimony earlier this year regarding Fast and Furious. My testimony was truthful and accurate and I have been consistent on this point throughout. I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it. Prior to early 2011, I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation and it is my understanding that the former United States Attorney for the District of Arizona and the former Acting Director and Deputy Director of ATF have told Congress that they, themselves, were unaware of the tactics employed.
Chairman Issa, among many other members of Congress, found the claims unpersuasive. “It appears your latest defense has reached a new low,” Issa told Holder. “You now claim that you were unaware of Fast and Furious because your staff failed to inform you of information contained in memos that were specifically addressed to you. At best, this indicates negligence and incompetence in your duties as Attorney General. At worst, it places your credibility in serious doubt.” [Fast and Furious, p. 127, 129-130]
REALITY: As Holder Noted, “None Of These [Memos] Say Anything About The Unacceptable Tactics Employed By ATF.” In the letter to the House Oversight Committee quoted by Pavlich, Holder makes clear that the documents in question are “weekly reports [that] contain short summaries of matters that the agencies deem of interest that week,” that “over a hundred pages” of such documents arrive each week addressed to him and are reviewed by his staff, and that “none of these summaries say anything about the unacceptable tactics employed by ATF”:
In the past few days, some have pointed to documents that we provided to Congress as evidence that I was familiar with Fast and Furious earlier than I have testified. That simply is not the case and those suggestions mischaracterize the process by which I receive information concerning the activities of the Department’s many components. On a weekly basis, my office typically receives over a hundred pages of so-called “weekly reports” that, while addressed to me, actually are provided to and reviewed by members of my staff and the staff of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. The weekly reports contain short summaries of matters that the agencies deem of interest that week. Sometimes, the summaries are simply a sentence-long and other times they consist of a paragraph. In some cases, the summaries are of policy-related issues or upcoming events. In other cases, the summaries are brief, high-level reviews of pending matters or investigations. It is important to look at the documents supposedly at issue here and, for that reason, I have attached them to this letter and am making them public in the form they previously were provided by us to Congress. Please not that none of these summaries say anything about the unacceptable tactics employed by ATF. [Holder letter, 10/7/11]
Pavlich Falsely Claimed ATF Agents Who Headed Fast And Furious Were “Promot[ed]”
CLAIM: ATF’s Newell And Voth Received “Promotion[s].” From the book.
These revelations did not prevent the promotion of some of the leaders of Operation Fast and Furious. In early August 2011, it was announced that Bill Newell had been promoted to ATF headquarters as a special assistant to the assistant director of the agency’s Office of Management, and Fast and Furious Supervisor David Voth, who had a habit of threatening subordinates and directly oversaw straw purchasing, was offered a promotion in ATF’s Tobacco Division. [Fast and Furious, p. 126-127]
REALITY: ATF Says They Were Lateral Moves Without Increased Responsibility Or Salary. From the Los Angeles Times:
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday that three supervisors in its controversial Fast and Furious gun-trafficking investigation were transferred to lateral jobs, not promoted.
“They did not receive salary or grade increases, nor did they assume positions with greater responsibility,” the agency said in a short statement. …
“These transfers/reassignments have never been described as promotions in any of the documents announcing them,” the ATF’s statement said. [LA Times, 8/17/11]
Pavlich Falsely Claims “Liberal Media” Called The Fast And Furious Story A “Conspiracy Theor[y]”
CLAIM: “The Explicitly Liberal Media Treated The Fast And Furious Story As… ‘One Of The Right’s Latest Conspiracy Theories.’” From the book:
Like the New York Times and the Washington Post, the explicitly liberal media treated the Fast and Furious story as the leftist magazine Mother Jones did, calling it “one of the right’s latest conspiracy theories.” The left-wing news blog Talking Points Memo called the connection between Fast and Furious and the Obama administration’s gun control agenda “outlandish.” The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart called it “f*****g crazy.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said the coverage of Fast and Furious was a result of “the insane paranoid message from the NRA.” The George Soros-funded Media Matters for America called it “hysterical rhetoric.” Chris Matthews said that those who deemed fast and Furious worthy of investigation were “another strain of the crazy far right.” [Fast and Furious, p. 84]
REALITY: In Some Cases Media Were Referring To The Conspiracy Theory That The Obama Administration Had The Operation Deliberately Fail To Bolster Gun Control Efforts, Not The Scandal Itself.
With the help of the National Rifle Association, Fast and Furious has become one of the right’s latest conspiracy theories. It goes something like this: Fast and Furious was actually a scheme by Holder to promote gun control. The NRA claims that Holder allowed American gun dealers to sell AK-47s and other powerful assault rifles so that they would be used to kill people in the Mexican drug war, thereby creating the political will for more restrictions on gun ownership in the United States. [Mother Jones, 12/7/11]
- Talking Points Memo reported:
Some, like Rep. Darrell Issa, have suggested that the Obama administration decided after the scandal broke to discuss the larger issue of gun trafficking and the need for better tools (like a rule requiring dealers to report sales of multiple “long guns”) to stop it.
But there’s a separate category of individuals who buy into a more outlandish scenario: those who believe that Fast and Furious was launched by the Obama administration to implement gun control. [TPM Media, 12/16/11]
REALITY: In Other Cases Media Were Actually Referring To Comments From The NRA, Not Fast And Furious.
- On MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews said:
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s something — another strain of the crazy far right. Here`s the National Rifle Association`s Wayne Lapierre — and I`ve known this guy a long time. I`m astounded by this new accusation that the president is leading some conspiracy. Anyway, here he is, Wayne Lapierre, head of the NPR — not National Public Radio, National Rifle Association, at the conservative conference if Florida last week. Let`s listen to Wayne Lapierre of the National Rifle Association.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The president will offer the 2nd Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he`s actually been good for the 2nd Amendment. But it`s a big, fat, stinking lie! It`s all part — it`s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the 2nd Amendment in our country!
Before the president was even sworn into office, they met and they hatched a conspiracy of public deception to try to guarantee his reelection in 2012.
(END VIDEO CLIP) [MSNBC, Hardball, 9/27/11, via Nexis]
- Jon Stewart said of LaPierre’s comment, “it’s so crazy, it’s fucking crazy.” Stewart did not discuss Fast and Furious during that segment. [Comedy Central, The Daily Show, 9/29/11]
- Rachel Maddow highlighted the same comment from LaPierre, saying: “The NRA says the way you can tell Obama is coming for your guns is that he’s not coming for your guns. It’s genius. That is the insane paranoid message from the NRA this year.” [MSNBC, The Rachel Maddow Show, 10/1/11]
- Media Matters reported: “For years, the NRA has warned that nationwide gun bans and confiscation were right around the corner. These threats made up in hysterical rhetoric for what they lacked in credibility.” [Media Matters, 12/27/11]
Pavlich Falsely Claimed Holder Said School Massacres Proved Second Amendment Should Be Read As Collective Right
CLAIM: Holder “Insisted” VA Tech, Columbine Massacres “Evidence Enough” Second Amendment Is Not An Individual Right. From Pavlich’s book:
One year before Obama’s election, Holder joined an amicus brief with Janet Reno defending Washington, D.C., against a resident challenging the city’s ban on guns. Although the Supreme Court overturned the ban and rejected Holder’s arguments, Holder insisted that the Virginia Tech and Columbine massacres proved “the deadly toll that firearms exact” and were evidence enough that the Second Amendment should be read as a collective, not an individual, right. [Fast and Furious, p. 22]
REALITY: Brief Actually Cited Court Precedent, Text Of Second Amendment And Its Drafting History And Historical Context. While the amicus brief joined by Holder did reference the Virginia Tech and Columbine massacres in passing, the thrust of its argument was that the Supreme Court should construe the Second Amendment as a collective right was:
As the briefs filed by the petitioners and their amici in this case explain, the original, longstanding position of the Department of Justice [that the Second Amendment should be read as a collective right], embraced by this Court in Miller and by all the federal courts of appeals until the Emerson decision and the decision below, is firmly rooted in the text of the Second Amendment, its drafting history, and the historical context in which it was enacted. Given the strength of the Department’s original position and its acceptance by the courts, the decision to abandon it in 2001 was unjustified.
The decision was also unwise. Recognition of an expansive individual right to keep and bear arms for private purposes will make it more difficult for the government to defend present and future firearms laws. With gun violence continuing to plague the United States, this Court should adhere to the position it staked out nearly 70 years ago in Miller and construe the Second Amendment to protect a right to keep and bear arms only to the extent the exercise of such a right is related to the “preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” [Brief for former Department of Justice officials as amici curiae supporting petitioners, District of Columbia v. Heller, January 2008]
REALITY: In June 2010 Fox News Pushed False Story That The Refuge Had Recently Been Closed And That Obama Gave Area “Back To Mexico.” On June 15 Fox’s Shanon Bream reported: “A massive stretch of Arizona now off limits to Americans. Critics say the administration is, in effect, giving a major strip of the Southwest back to Mexico.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 7/15/10, via Media Matters]