Will Attorney General Eric Holder be a victim of the influence of corporate money in politics?
One person who is probably happy about the attention the Supreme Court is getting for its pending Obamacare decision is Attorney General Eric Holder, who, by any measure, is having a really bad week. Later today, the House of Representatives is likely to hold him in contempt of Congress because he has refused to hand over documents related to "Operation Fast and Furious" to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The gist of the story is this: The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has been charged with the Sisyphean task of stopping guns from being trafficked from the United States into Mexico and its violent drug war. The ATF, Fortune magazine writes in an explosive new investigation published today, is "hobbled in its effort to stop this flow," thanks in large part to lobbying efforts by the National Rifle Administration:
No federal statute outlaws firearms trafficking, so agents must build cases using a patchwork of often toothless laws. For six years, due to Beltway politics, the bureau has gone without permanent leadership, neutered in its fight for funding and authority. The National Rifle Association has so successfully opposed a comprehensive electronic database of gun sales that the ATF's congressional appropriation explicitly prohibits establishing one.
The ATF has spent a good chunk of its time monitoring gun buyers who purchased weapons on behalf of the Sinaloa drug cartel. In December, 2010, a U.S. Border Patrol agent named Brian Terry was killed in Arizona by a group of Mexicans armed with guns -- two of which they left behind, both of whose serial numbers showed that the weapons had been bought in Phoenix by a Fast and Furious suspect.
Fortune magazine says there's an enormous misunderstanding of the Fast and Furious scandal both among the media and politicians:
Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. [House Oversight Committee Chairman Daryl] Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.
So now, as even members of Holder's own party say they'll vote to hold him in contempt, how did this fundamental untruth become conventional wisdom in the halls of power?
Money and undue corporate influence, of course.
Specifically, money and undue corporate influence wielded by the NRA (which is now being funded in part by the billionaire, dark money-wielding Koch brothers). The NRA recently implicated itself in the debate over Fast and Furious in a letter to House members which said that the Obama administration "actively sought information" from the operation to support a program requiring gun sellers to report multiple rifle sales.
This naturally sent members of House running scared and intensified the debate over holding Holder in contempt. Lawmakers are terrified of going against the NRA, whose political action fund has already raised nearly $10 million to spend on campaign contributions this election cycle (an amount that will certainly increase with the Koch influx), much of it directed at members of the House. This includes the four Democrats who have said they'd vote against the administration -- Jim Matheson (UT), John Barrow (GA), Nick Rahall (WV), and Collin Peterson (MN).
Even on the Senate side, the NRA's influence is evident. Take Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is quoted extensively in Fortune's investigation:
The ATF's accusers seem untroubled by evidence that the policy they have pilloried didn't actually exist. "It gets back to something basic for me," says Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). "Terry was murdered, and guns from this operation were found at his murder site."
Grassley received $116,489 from the NRA Victory Fund when up for reelection in 2010.
Sometimes money speaks louder than the truth.
Follow Suzanne Merkelson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/suzmerk