As if to set the tone for the November election clash, President Barack Obama’s Republican opposition in the House of Representatives has threatened one of his top officials, Attorney-General Eric Holder, with contempt-of-Congress proceedings over the alleged botching of an undercover gun-smuggling operation called “Fast and Furious”.
The developments on Capitol Hill follow the controversial 2009-2010 “gun-walking” operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona, which saw ATF agents standing aside as suspected gun smugglers purchased close to 2,000 weapons. This week the Republican-controlled House voted 23 to 17 in favour of proceedings against Mr. Holder.
“Gun-walking” is a tactic wherein agents knowingly allowed firearms, often numbering in the thousands, to “walk” or be bought by suspected arms traffickers usually in the pay of Mexican drug cartels. On this occasion, the tactic allegedly spun out of control, with reports suggesting that some guns were found at the scene of the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in 2010.
When Mr. Obama this week refused to release certain documents sought by the Congressional panel investigating the sting operation, insisting that the documents were covered by “executive privilege”, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by California Republican Darrell Issa, responded angrily, conducting a vote to hold Attorney-General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Legal experts, however, challenged the robustness of Mr. Issa’s tactics. In particular, Peter Shane, law professor at Ohio State University, was quoted by CNN as saying, “Unfortunately for the... Committee... its legal position is uncertain at best, and almost all political considerations would seem to favour the White House.”