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Posts tagged "Elijah Cummings"

h/t: Hayes Brown at Think Progress World

H/T: Igor Volsky at Think Progress Justice

think-progress

(via Watch Conservative Media’s Favorite Benghazi Myth Fall Apart | Blog | Media Matters for America)

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering today debunked the conservative media myth that the Obama administration failed to deploy adequate military resources to Benghazi, Libya, in response to the September 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission. Mullen told members of Congress that the “military did everything they possibly could that night.” Pickering agreed, testifying that the military is not always “positioned to come in short notice to deal with those issues.”

Mullen and Pickering led the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB), which issued an independent report in December about the attacks. Both men are testifying today at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing led by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who, along with members of the conservative media, have attempted to politicize the attacks to criticize the Obama administration.

During his questioning time, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) noted that Republicans have suggested the Obama administration “withheld assistance on the night of the attacks for political reasons.” As Media Matters has documented, conservative media — led by Fox News — have echoed Republicans in persistently using this line of attack when criticizing the Obama administration over Benghazi.

Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007-2011, debunked the myth, stating that the "military did everything they possibly could that night. They just couldn’t get there in time." Mullen also detailed the “many forces that moved that night” and said a military response “is not something you can just wish to happen instantly. There’s a lot of planning, preparation” to “do it as rapidly as one can do it.” 

With days–perhaps hours–to go before President Obama announces recommendations from Vice President Biden’s gun violence task force, battles lines have already been drawn.

Most dramatically, with the heartrending burials of 20 innocent first-graders and six of their heroic educators as a backdrop, NRA top lobbyist Wayne LaPierre issued a belligerent and self-pitying demand for yet more weaponry, and the posting of armed guards at every school in America. But as the nation debates Obama’s proposals—and LaPierre’s—it will be important to reexamine the NRA’s greatest PR victory of the last few years: the greatly overworked, shamefully distorted Fast and Furious scandal. 

As Fortune reporter Katherine Eban revealed in an outstanding investigation published last summer, much of what Republicans have claimed about the scandal—including the headline-grabbing assertion that the US government intentionally provided guns to Mexican drug cartels—is false. The real story is of an agency sabotaged by the same pro-gun mania which led to the Newtown tragedy.

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) opened up the Fast and Furious case to monitor American teenagers, who had been tapped by Mexican drug cartels to help arm the war in Mexico by becoming straw purchasers or front buyers. Our laws permit a teenager with no prior criminal record to pay cash and buy an unlimited number of military assault rifles. Their favorites included AR-15 variants like the Bushmaster .223 rifle used by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Were Lanza in Arizona, he could have walked into nearly any federally licensed firearms dealer, plunked down $10,000 in cash, and left with 20 AK-47s in his hands—as do so many straw purchasers.

In a sane country, the inquiry into Brian Terry’s death would have examined all the tools that the ATF agents lacked in trying to build a case against the straw purchasers in Fast and Furious. There is no firearms trafficking statute, which would have allowed the ATF to build a swifter case that targeted the straw purchasers and their recruiters as a group. There is no comprehensive database of firearms purchases, which would have given the agents a much-needed real-time look at their suspects’ activities. In fact, the laws are so lax that the buyers didn’t even need to resort to a favored avenue for shady purchases: our totally unregulated gun shows, which require no background checks at all. (A sane country also would not have left the ATF to languish without a permanent head for fully six years—an unacceptable situation that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has rightly called on the president to address with a recess appointment.)

The Republican-led House, acting in lockstep with the NRA, twisted the facts of the ill-fated gun trafficking investigation in Phoenix to complete almost every item on its political To Do list. It used the scandal to bludgeon and destabilize the ATF, the agency charged with enforcing the nation’s gun laws. It diverted attention from the ineffective gun laws that made the ATF’s job in Fast and Furious nearly impossible. And it emerged with a cherished talking point: that the gun laws on the books right now are more than adequate, and it’s only their enforcement that has flaws.

The effort by the NRA and its friends in Congress to stymie any discussion of our permissive guns laws during its Fast and Furious investigation was made plain by the lead sled dog, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who at multiple hearings openly silenced Democratic members from even asking questions about the strength of the laws or potential legislative solutions.

If the NRA and Republican congressmen really cared about Brian Terry or his tragic death, they would have probed the actual causes underlying it, instead of proliferating a lot of phony conspiracy theories so wild, they almost left Stephen Colbert at a loss for words.

Early on in the investigation, the few reality-based ideas came from Representative Elijah Cummings, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s ranking Democrat. Cummings held a hearing on the state of the gun laws and issued a report with recommendations including the enactment of a federal firearms trafficking statute. But the 36-month Republican-led investigation into Fast and Furious yielded not a single suggestion for strengthening the laws or empowering the ATF. Instead, it was a blueprint for reducing what passes as gun enforcement to rubble. As we’re tragically reminded over and over, that comes at a tragic price.

h/t: Katrina Vanden Heuvel at The Nation

A Democratic congressman has launched an investigation into True The Vote, a conservative Tea Party group that has attempted to purge thousands of registered voters from voting rolls across the country ahead of the November presidential election.

The organization is pursuing an aggressive ground campaign to challenge people’s right to vote based on their residency and citizenship, such as the hundreds of college students who failed to identify their dorm room numbers on voter registration applications.

In a letter to Catherine Engelbrecht, the founder of True The Vote, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) accused the Texas-based organization of challenging the registration of thousands of legitimate voters “based on insufficient, inaccurate, and faulty evidence.”

"True the Vote, its volunteers, and its affiliated groups have a horrendous record of filing inaccurate voter registration challenges, causing legitimate voters — through no fault of their own — to receive letters from local election officials notifying them that their registrations have been challenged and requiring them to take steps to remedy false accusations against them," wrote Cummings, the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The letter continues: “Multiple reviews by state and local government officials have documented voter registration challenges submitted by your volunteers based on insufficient evidence, outdated or inaccurate data, and faulty software and database capabilities. Across multiple states, government officials of both political parties have criticized your methods and work product for their lack of accuracy and reliability.”

"Your tactics have been so problematic that even Ohio Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted has condemned them as potentially illegal," Cummings states in his letter.

Cummings told The Huffington Post that it appears that True The Vote has been extremely selective in whom it targets for a challenge.

"We have asked True The Vote to provide us with documentation that shows exactly how they select folks to go after and challenge," Cummings said. Cummings said some of what he’s heard about the group’s strategy has been disturbing and, if true, threatens fundamental American rights.

"It does appear that they are quite selective in who they challenge, and it appears they primarily go after people who might be inclined to vote Democratic," Cummings said. The congressman said that in Ohio, for example, True The Vote has targeted nine of 13 districts won by President Barack Obama in 2008.

"It also appears they challenge, at disproportionate rates, African Americans," Cummings said, characterizing these tactics as "blatant." He questioned True The Vote’s intent and said that Engelbrecht has made it public knowledge that she’d like to see Obama defeated.

Cummings said, “You would think someone trying to address voter fraud wouldn’t be talking about who they want in the White House; it would be ‘I want to talk about fair elections.’”

True The Vote’s website describes the organization’s mission as to “restore truth, faith, and integrity to our elections.”

The group and its offshoots in various states have gained a reputation for aggressively challenging the legitimacy of properly registered voters. Critics say their tactics are often flawed and especially target poor and minority communities.

The group has also filed lawsuits against election officials in Ohio and Indiana, and instructs volunteers on how to use software to cross-check voter rolls against driver’s license records and property records, among other databases. A Government Accountability Board in Wisconsin, where True The Vote raised questions about thousands of voter signatures, called the results of the group’s process "at best flawed."

Last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) asked the Justice Department to “protect Americans from voter intimidation” in the face of “widespread efforts by Tea Party-linked groups to intimidate voters and suppress the vote, particularly in low-income and minority neighborhoods.”

In a letter to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, Boxer asked that they uphold the tenets of the Voting Rights Act.

"No group can be allowed to intimidate or interfere with this fundamental right that is essential for American democracy," Boxer wrote.

"This type of intimidation must stop," Boxer continued. "I don’t believe this is ‘True the Vote.’ I believe it’s ‘Stop the Vote.’"

h/t: Huffington Post

Washington, DC (Oct. 5, 2012)—Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Catherine Engelbrecht, President and Founder of True the Vote, requesting documents relating to the group’s “horrendous record” of filing inaccurate voter registration challenges across the country.

“At some point, an effort to challenge voter registrations by the thousands without any legitimate basis may be evidence of illegal voter suppression,” wrote Cummings. “If these efforts are intentional, politically-motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.”

Cummings’ letter details how numerous groups affiliated with True the Vote are engaging in a coordinated campaign to challenge legitimate voters across the country, including in Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Maryland, although local and state election officials have repeatedly determined that these challenges are baseless.

The system of checks and balances works best when the separate branches of government are inherently and proudly adversarial toward one another. But that can’t happen when partisanship defines when and how accountability moments play out.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa — the headline-hungry California Republican who on Wednesday engineered a committee vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt — forgot that essential rule.

He failed to build a credible case or a credible coalition for his initiative. After a day of increasingly ridiculous posturing, Issa secured the contempt citation he sought. But is came on a straight party-line vote that rendered the decision all but meaningless.

The chairman’s heavy-handed style invoted the reproach that the contempt vote was “nothing more than a political witch hunt,” as People for the American Way president Michael Keegan termed it.

“To be sure, Congress has a legitimate interest in investigating Operation Fast and Furious, but Chairman Issa and Republican majority on the Committee appear to be more interested in scoring political points than in getting to the bottom of what happened,” argued Keegan, who added that, “The hoops the Committee is demanding the Attorney General jump through illustrate that these contempt hearings are as partisan as they are extreme. Over the course of this ‘investigation,’ the Committee has ordered the A.G. to produce documents whose confidentiality is protected by federal law, has refused to subpoena Bush Administration officials to testify about their knowledge of the operation during their time in office, has refused to allow public testimony from officials whose testimony counters Issa’s partisan narrative, and has repeatedly rejected the A.G.’s efforts to accommodate the committee, making compliance all but impossible.”

Issa’s actions undermined not just his own credibility but any sense that he and his allies might be acting in defense of — or with any regard for — the Constitution.

There is no reason to suggest that Holder is above criticism for his actions as Attorney General. He has been called out by Democrats as well as Republicans on a variety of issues. And he has not always managed his response to Issa’s abuses well. Nor should anyone who vaiues transparency and government oversight be pleased when a president determines that it is necessary to invoke “executive privilege” in a fight with Congress, as Barack Obama has done to thwart Issa’s demands.

But it is Issa whose actions have been contemptible. He is demanding deliberative documents that are ordinarily off-limits to Congress, a big ask, yet he has not built a credible coalition of supporters for the demand. And when the details of the documents and the issues involved are laid out—along with the offers by Holder to brief the committee—it quickly becomes evident that the committee chairman is so unwilling to compromise that he won’t take “yes” for an answer.

H/T: John Nichols on The Nation