Justice Department Finally Releases Fast and Furious Documents, With Eric Holder On His Way Out the Door



As noted on Reason 24/7, Christmas came early for the House Oversight and Government Reform panel. On the eve of the midterm elections, the Justice Department (DOJ) finally sent Congress over 64,000 pages of documents related to the "Fast and Furious" gunrunning scandal. How about that timing?

While the DOJ had originally released some 7,600 pages, congressional investigators have unsuccessfully been seeking access to all the documents for years. In 2012, President Barack Obama invoked his executive privilege to keep these documents classified. The House of Representatives then held U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to hand them over.

But despite the Obama administration's best efforts, this August a judge rejected Obama's claims and ordered the DOJ to release the documents.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said that he would continue to seek more documents related to the scandal:

Since these pages still do not represent the entire universe of the documents the House of Representatives is seeking related to the Justice Department's cover-up of the botched gun-walking scandal that contributed to the death of a Border Patrol agent, our court case will continue.

Issa also expressed concern that the DOJ had been too liberal in redacting some of the documents. Nonetheless, he called the release a "victory for the legislative branch."

The scandal broke back in 2010, when two guns sold to Mexican drug traffickers under the Fast and Furious program were found at the scene of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry's death. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) had been "gunwalking" during operations in Arizona from 2006 to 2011, allowing guns be sold to known drug traffickers in a foolhardy bid to trace the weapons to high-ranking cartel members.

The ATF ultimately lost track of thousands of guns, hundreds of which later turned up at crime scenes, including bloody massacres. Mexican officials claim that hundreds of people have died at the hands of weapons knowingly sold to drug cartel members. Holder himself stated in 2011 that the effects of Fast and Furious could linger for quite some time. After all, guns put in the hands of violent Mexican drug traffickers don't just disappear overnight.

Obama claimed that neither he nor Holder approved the operation. Holder also stated that he hadn't heard of it until a few weeks before the scandal, but memos leaked in 2011 contradict this claim. A DOJ Inspector General report released in 2012 exonerated Holder from blame, however—pinning the colossal screwup on rogue agents. Yeah, right.

Some of the documents declassified on Monday offer tepid evidence that perhaps Holder didn't know the full details of Fast and Furious after all. In response to the leaked memos discussing the operation, he reportedly stated, "I didn't read them. I rarely do."

But even if Holder doesn't suffer from acute mendacity, his appeals to ignorance aren't doing him any favors. If anything, they just prove that he is as oblivious as he is incompetent.

This scandal, four years in the making, could get a lot more interesting with the document dump. Just don't expect Holder, who has already announced he's stepping down, to be around to face any consequences. Or the ATF to stop drafting gun control regulations without a hint of irony.

See a Reason reader on Holder's track record as U.S. Attorney General here.