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Fast and Furious: Two Years Later, Still a Battle for Transparency

**Special guest post by Townhall.com’s Katie Pavlich in honor of Sunshine Week.

“President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and WhiteHouse.gov will play a major role in delivering on that promise.” – 12:01 pm Whitehouse.gov January 20, 2009.

Watchdog Wire is well aware of one of the most underreported scandals in U.S. history known as Operation Fast and Furious– a program started in September 2009 in which the United States Department of Justice [DOJ] sanctioned and watched the sale of 2500
AK-47s and .50 caliber sniper rifles to Mexican drug cartel members.  DOJ through its subordinate Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, knowingly allowed the weapons to not only be illegally purchased, but trafficked from the United States into Mexico into the hands of violent criminals notorious for carrying out gruesome murders south of the border.

Two and a half years, two dead Americans and hundreds of dead Mexican nationals later, we’ve still seen little to no transparency from the Obama administration on the issue of Fast and Furious or general DOJ gun trafficking policy. The ongoing lack of transparency from the Department of Justice under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder started just hours after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed on December 15, 2010. Fast and Furious guns were left at the murder scene.

On January 20, 2011, former Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Phoenix Field Division Bill Newell, held a press conference announcing the indictment of strawpurchasers. Newell was asked by reporters whether his agency had allowed guns to walk as reports of DOJ approved cartel gun trafficking on blogs like Sipsey Street Irregulars, Gun Rights Examiner and the whistleblower site CleanupATF.org began to gain traction. Newell answered with a resounding and defiant, “Hell no.”

This was just one of the first lies told in relation to the scandal. Just days later, the Department of Justice sent a letter to Senator Charles Grassley flat out denying the tactic of gunwalking had ever been used in any DOJ program. At the same time behind the scenes, emails between former U.S. Attorney for Arizona and DOJ showed collaborative efforts to deny the entire operation all together.

Throughout my coverage of the Fast and Furious scandal, like a handful of other journalists and bloggers, working with the Obama White House and Department of Justice became impossible. FOIA requests were repeatedly ignored, phone calls were never returned and thousands of issued documents were completely blacked out (redacted). YouTube Preview Image

On top of the non-cooperation and blatant lack of transparency and compliance regarding the information requests, DOJ Spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler enlisted the far-left smear outlet Media Matters to bully reporters and bloggers who dared to ask tough questions on the issue. Schmaler yelled at CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson for requesting more transparency on the issue and White House Associate Communications Director Eric Schultz screamed at her.

There are as many as 250,000 Operation Fast and Furious documents available. As per duty of oversight, the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Chairman Darrell Issa of California, requested 70,000 of those documents.  Out of the 70,000 only 7,000 were released with the majority of them being blacked out beyond usability and named “the black papers.” FOIA requests resulted in the same– pages upon pages of blacked out and useless material.

But what the DOJ chose to black out is telling in itself. A memo from former ATF Deputy Director Kenneth Melson to Attorney General Eric Holder dated March 1-5, 2010 details “expected legislative or policy developments.” Unfortunately, the black ink made it impossible to see them. Another memo dated January 21-February 4, 2011 details media exploitation surrounding Fast and Furious, but again, it’s impossible to see behind a wall of black ink.

To make matters worse, after months of stonewalling and refusing to turn over key documents crucial to holding government officials accountable for Operation Fast and Furious, Attorney General Eric Holder was defiant against contempt of Congress charges.  The reason? He knew President Obama would ditch his campaign promise of transparency to save him, the Department of Justice, the White House and others from embarrassment and legal consequences of illegal behavior exposed in DOJ documents.

Fifteen minutes before the first scheduled vote for Holder’s contempt, the White House phoned in executive privilege over remaining Fast and Furious documents, despite claiming for more than a year the White House had no involvement in or knowledge about the operation until after Congress started investigating in early 2011.

Currently, the decision as to whether President Obama’s executive privilege over documents involved in a case he claims to have no knowledge of prior to 2011, when Congressional and press inquires into the scandal started, is wrapped up in court. The fate of thousands of Fast and Furious documents also lies with the court system.

In the name of transparency, we can hope the executive privilege is overturned and that documents are released as there are still many unanswered questions and many lies to expose.

“This is the most transparent administration in history.” –Barack Obama February 14, 2013.

Katie Pavlich is author of the New York Times Best Seller Fast and Furious:  Barack Obama’s Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover-Up.  She is also the News Editor at Townhall.com. Follow her on Twitter @katiepavlich.

*Check out our Watchdog Wire video interview with Katie Pavlich here.


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