Even Before Fast and Furious, They Had Guns on Their Minds

What Obama administration officials, including the president, knew or didn't know about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives' 2009 Operation Fast and Furious has little to do with what they should have known.

Attorney General Holder, Secretary Clinton, President Obama, and Secretary Napolitano each declared that he or she did not know about Fast and Furious until 2011.  But what should they have known about a federal program that eventually led to mass murder?

In a 1999 web article on leadership, writer and attorney Jonathan Wallace examined the question of when to hold those in power accountable.  He begins with a two-part question: "did he know or should he have known?" 

The first approach holds a leader responsible for giving the order, or being aware of an intended action and failing to stop it. The second blames him for failing to ask the right questions or to set the right standards for the organization. Lawyers call the first failing "intent" and the second "negligence".

There is a third legal theory which is relevant: that of "absolute liability." Under certain circumstances, the law calls a party to account for a bad outcome regardless of intention or negligence.

The sense that one has responsibility -- without the ability to make things come out right is pervasive in society today[.] ... the panacea promised to people with a strong sense of victimhood is all too often the opposite evil: authority without responsibility.

Later in his essay, Wallace could have been describing the major players in Operation Fast and Furious when he asserts that "authority without responsibility creates monsters."

And if Wallace's analysis applies, demanding the "I won" administration to tell us "who gave the order" is futile and will lead only to boxes of purged e-mails.  Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) asked  the attorney general during the House Judiciary hearing on December 8, "Don't you think it's a little conspicuous that there's not one e-mail from you about Fast and Furious in any way, shape, or form?"  Holder made it clear that he won't be held responsible for personal e-mails he didn't provide the committee.

Holder, Obama, Napolitano, and Clinton feign ignorance and don't appear to be accountable to anybody, but this doesn't preclude evidence of past statements and policy positions which point to what they should have known about an operation near and dear to their hearts.  They opposed the expiration of the assault weapons ban in 2004, and they were part of the joint effort to link "lax gun control laws" to Mexican drug cartel violence months before the onset of the gun-walking operation.

Instead of these authorities taking responsibility for actions of people under them, they prefer to have us believe that a dearth of leadership existed in the White House, at the DOJ, and at the Phoenix office of the ATF to such an extent that field operatives could act with impunity.

Let the proof speak for itself.  Here are some of the main characters and their parts in the plot.


In 2007, a member of the Blue Steel Democrats, an online organization that supports a citizen's right to bear arms, wrote a letter to then-Senator Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, asking for his position on the Second Amendment.  Obama made it clear where he stood.

We must work to ensure that guns do not fall into the hands of criminals or the mentally ill through an effective background check system. We also have to strike a reasonable balance between public safety and sportsmen's rights.

I will continue to work for effective gun laws, including reinstatement of the assault weapons ban that the last Congress allowed to expire, and effective law enforcement.

Obama was true to his word. On February 25, 2009, approximately a month after the president took office, his attorney general told a reporter that "there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make."

Among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons. I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum. 


In the same February press conference, Holder linked the ban to cracking down on Mexican drug cartels.  National Rifle Association president Wayne La Pierre weighed in on the attorney general's remarks, stating, "I think there are a lot of Democrats on the Hill cringing at Holder's comments right now."  Indeed there were.

A few weeks later, on March 17, 2009, a group of 65 House Democrats sent a letter to Holder urging him to reconsider his campaign to reinstitute the assault weapons ban.

As strong supporters of the Second Amendment, we were very concerned to see your recent remarks suggesting that the Administration will push for the reinstatement of the 1994 ban on "assault weapons" and ammunition magazines.  We believe this ban was ineffective during the 10 years it was law, and would oppose its reenactment."

When the gun ban was first signed into law in 1994 during the Clinton administration, 54 House Democrats lost their seats; they weren't about to repeat history.  In a CNN March 26, 2009 interview with Wayne LaPierre and Cully Stimson of the Heritage Foundation, Lou Dobbs noted "the cavalier way in which Eric Holder, the attorney general, brought up the assault weapons ban reinstitution idea gives you very clear evidence, if we needed it, as to how opposed this administration is to the second amendment" (my emphasis).

The Democrats' letter ended up sending a loud and clear message to Holder and the administration: "back off -- Congress is not about to revisit the ban on assault weapons."

In the same March 2009 interview, six months before Operation Fast and Furious commenced and long before the scandal hit the news, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) told the CNN correspondent, "I think many members of Congress, probably a majority, have real problems with an administration who using [sic] drug violence along the border as an excuse for gun control.  It's like they have a hidden agenda, and we're very aware of it."


Was Smith right?  When Hillary Clinton visited Mexico City on March 26, 2009, she touted the ban as an effective law, saying it had been instrumental in driving down the crime rate.  She also told Mexican officials imposing the stricter control on the sale of assault weapons was going to be difficult.  "Politically, this is a very big hurdle in our Congress."  Clinton then blamed the United States for the violence.

Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade[.] ... Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.

By the time AG Eric Holder visited Mexico a week later, pressure was on to steer clear of references to the assault weapons ban.  At a press conference in Cuernavaca, Mexico on April 2, 2009, Holder complied, dutifully promising to "stand shoulder to shoulder" with Mexico and saying that "the United States shares responsibility for this problem and we will take responsibility by joining our Mexican counterparts in every step of this fight." 

Mexico's President Felipe Calderón weighed in on the issue of reinstatement of the gun ban when he questioned Obama's commitment to the matter in a meeting on April 14, 2009; Obama promised not to give up the fight.  Calderón got on board with the widely parroted but eventually debunked assertion that "90 percent of the weapons seized in Mexico could be traced to the United States, adding that organized crime increased after the ban expired."


Janet Napolitano was also on message just before she headed to Mexico herself.  On March 29, 2009, testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on U.S.-Mexico border violence in Washington, Napolitano said that "she hopes an upcoming series of meetings with Mexican officials involving her, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder will lead to more U.S. interdiction on southbound guns and cash." 

All four principals -- Obama, Holder, Napolitano, and Clinton -- visited Mexico in March and April of 2009.  All four raised the issue of smuggled guns, and each in his or her own way vowed to "take the fight to the Mexican drug cartels."  All four supported tightening loopholes in existing gun laws and reinstituting the AWB.  All four have denied knowledge of a program named Fast and Furious.  All four executives in charge should have known what we citizens now know.

Hat tip: Bob Fischl

Read more M. Catharine Evans at Potter Williams Report.