06/30/2012 07:12 pm ET Updated Aug 30, 2012

Playing Fast and Furious With a Man's Reputation

Happy now, Darrell Issa? The effort you led to discredit Attorney General Eric Holder got you what you wanted from the beginning: a vote to hold in contempt the Attorney General of the United States. You told the New York Times, "This was not the outcome I had sought." There's a word for that.

Regardless, you've earned your coveted footnote: the Congressman who brought about the first such sanction of a sitting cabinet member in U.S. history. And not just any cabinet member, but the one responsible for effective, professional, nonpartisan law enforcement. Not even Alberto Gonzales or John Ashcroft, two of history's least distinguished incumbents of the AG's office, met the fate of Eric Holder.

The country's interest is best served when both the executive and the legislative branches resist partisan showboating and rigorously defend against the politicization of the Department of Justice.

There's cause for ambivalence about President Obama's claim of executive privilege. Such a claim makes sense if shielding behind-the-scenes conversation about the flaws of "Operation Fast and Furious" can legitimately be defended as a life-saving measure. But if the internal back-and-forth is simply embarrassing or inconvenient, hiding behind executive privilege is both unnecessary and foolish.

A shaky constitutional claim on a major gun case provides ammunition for the NRA and the Gun Owners of America. In their respective campaigns to paint the president as a weak defender if not an enemy of private gun ownership, they have already begun issuing report cards on individual members of congress. An A to those who voted in favor of the contempt citation, Fs to those who voted no or walked out in protest over the vote. Politically, it simply doesn't matter that the Congressional battle is not over guns but the internal conversation of a president and his staff.

On the subject of saving lives, the loss of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was a tragedy no matter who was responsible or how it happened. But let's not forget the Bush administration's multiple uses of the same tactics used to "climb the ladder" of the hierarchy of Mexican drug cartels. Such tracing and tracking of firearms and other items of evidence (think drug supplies, marked bills, stolen property) is common in law enforcement. If managed lawfully and competently (much in question in this case), it's an essential public safety tool.

For a politician to suggest that the agent's life would have been spared had the federal government not allowed the putative murder weapon to migrate south of the border, is naïve or disingenuous. (Thanks in part to the pro-gun lobby, drug-dealing thugs on either side of the border have no trouble buying or stealing vast arsenals of high-powered weaponry.)

But seeking to make political hay of the death of Agent Terry is despicable. The same could be said of efforts to taint the reputation of the highest law enforcement official in the land.