Following the Obama administration's assertion of executive privilege over some documents related to the ATF's Operation Fast and Furious, Fox News has rushed to label the move improper, or evidence that President Obama himself lied about involvement with the failed operation. In fact, the documents in question deal with the administration's response to the operation after it became public, an area with which the administration has previously acknowledged the White House participated, and such claims of executive privilege are well in line with historical precedent.
On Fox News this morning, senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed that President Obama's assertion of executive privilege in response to a congressional subpoena of Justice Department documents related to the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious is only valid if he was "personally involved in making decisions" regarding that case. But President Bush previously invoked executive privilege in response to a subpoena of internal DOJ documents.
NAPOLITANO: Executive privilege protects communications with the president, the human being of the president, not with people that work for him and the Justice Department. ... If the attorney general sat down and discussed it with the president, he probably doesn't want the Congress and the public to know that, because we know of the awful events that occurred as a result of the Fast and Furious escapade. But we also know that executive privilege only pertains to military, diplomatic, and sensitive national security matters. Now, was fighting the drug gangs at the border a sensitive national security matter? And, if so, was the President of the United States of America personally involved in making decisions as to how to conduct that fight? If that's the case, this has reached a different level and we now know why the attorney general has ferociously defended these documents.
In December 2001, President Bush invoked executive privilege in response to a subpoena from congressional investigators seeking deliberative DOJ communications related to both the FBI's use of organized crime informants and President Clinton's fundraising efforts. The New York Times reported:
President Bush invoked executive privilege today for the first time in his administration to block a Congressional committee trying to review documents about a decades-long scandal involving F.B.I. misuse of mob informants in Boston. His order also denied the committee access to internal Justice Department deliberations about President Bill Clinton's fund-raising tactics.
A United Press International report on Bush's decision says that the executive privilege claim applied to "17 sets of documents related to the FBI investigations and informants" as well as "a set of documents related to the decision not to pursue an independent counsel to investigate Clinton-era campaign finance violations."
On his radio show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh discussed instances of gun violence before declaring, "It is more dangerous in Obama's hometown than it is in Kabul, Afghanistan."
LIMBAUGH: Chicago. That's Obama's town. And Chicago Tribune: one dead, eight wounded in shootings across city over night. This is last night. The overnight violence raised the weekend toll. Seven fatal shootings and one fatal stabbing between Friday afternoon and early Monday morning. It is more dangerous in Obama's home town than it is Kabul, Afghanistan. But, let me tell you something, I've got this Chicago Tribune story and there is a Google Map of murders in Chicago. Do you know that you can Google Map murder locations in Chicago? That's how common -- as though anybody would want to go to these places -- but you can do it. I'm looking at it.
While it is clear that Limbaugh's motive was to take a cheap shot at the president, there was a disturbing truth in his words. Not just in Chicago, but in the United States as a whole, gun violence occurs with a frequency that many would expect to find in a war zone rather than a superpower nation.
The sad fact is that the rate of firearm death in the United States is eight times higher than our nation's economic counterparts. A 2003 study by Harvard School of Public Health professor David Hemenway found that the firearm homicide rate in the United States is 19.5 times higher than the average rate found in other high-income nations.
Beyond the immeasurable cost in human life, a new study released by the Center for American Progress demonstrates that the economic cost of gun violence, at a minimum, totals in the tens of billions of dollars.
The study, co-authored by former Bill Clinton economic advisor Robert Shapiro and conservative economist Kevin Hassett, found that the direct cost of violent crime amounted to more than $42 billion in 2010 nationwide. Direct costs were defined as "associated costs of police, courts and correctional institutions, out-of-pocket-medical expenses borne by victims, and lost earnings by both victims and perpetrators who are arrested and convicted." Intangible costs, which include pain and suffering and diminished quality of life as a result of violent crime, were projected at $156 billion, meaning Hassett and Shapiro pegged the total cost of violent crime at nearly $200 billion per year.
Significantly, the study notes that firearms continue to play a major role in violent crime. Even as the overall violent crime rate is declining, the frequency that handguns are used in homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults has remained constant.
During the June 13 broadcast of Cam & Company on NRA News, conservative blogger Ed Morrissey relied onblatant falsehoods to draw a distinction between the failed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious and its Bush-era analogue, Operation Wide Receiver.
Morrissey claimed that during Wide Receiver ATF "coordinated" with Mexican law enforcement officials and that firearms involved in the operation were "accounted for." In reality, no such coordination occurred and many of firearms involved in Wide Receiver were lost after being allowed to "walk" across the U.S. border with Mexico.
Morrissey's claims came during an exchange with host Cam Edwards where the men mocked Attorney General Eric Holder's June 12 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: And again, you know Ed, what we got was, "I am cooperating, and I'm an awesome attorney general, why my goodness gracious I put a stop to these tactics in Fast and Furious. That's more than any other attorney general has ever done."
ED MORRISSEY: And he tried to say, "Well, I'm sure that the attorney general that you think was more qualified than me, you know, he didn't bother to stop it when it was done under Operation Wide Receiver." But what Eric Holder had to admit the last time he tried to make that statement was that there were some significant differences in Operation Wide Receiver. Which is one, they actually tracked the guns after they were released, and two, that was that Operation Wide Receiver was done in coordination with the Mexican government. There was law enforcement on both sides of the border tracking those guns. They accounted for those guns. And that's the reason why that operation didn't result in two dead American law enforcement officers and hundreds of dead Mexicans. I mean that's, that's I mean, there is a huge gulf between those two things.
Far from being "accounted for," the vast majority of the 450 guns involved in Wide Receiver were never recovered by the United States. This may have been because the ATF agents involved in Wide Receiver did not actually coordinate with the Mexican authorities as Morrissey claimed.
From the June 14 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre appeared on Fox News' America Live yesterday to comment on the controversial "Kill At Will" law that has been connected to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. LaPierre's appearance came the day after The Wall Street Journal reported on a new study that linked the NRA-backed "Kill At Will" laws to higher homicide rates, though America Live host Shannon Bream failed to raise the results of the study with LaPierre.
Starting with Florida in 2005, at least 25 states have enacted some form of "Kill At Will." The study, conducted by Texas A&M University economics professor Mark Hoekstra, reached the damning conclusion that the expansion of such self-defense laws since 2005 led to an increase in the incidence of homicides:
[W]e find the laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant 7 to 9 percent, which translates into an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the states that adopted castle doctrine [Hoekstra's term for laws passed since 2005 that expand the right to self-defense]. Thus, by lowering the expected costs associated with using lethal force, castle doctrine laws induce more of it. This increase in homicides could be due either to the increased use of lethal force in self-defense situations, or to the escalation of violence in otherwise non-lethal conflicts. We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent. This is important because murder excludes non-negligent manslaughter classifications that one might think are used more frequently in self-defense cases. But regardless of how one interprets increases from various classifications, it is clear that the primary effect of strengthening self-defense law is to increase homicide. [emphasis added]
Hoekstra also found no link between the enactment of "Kill At Will" laws and a decrease in other types of crime:
Results indicate that the prospect of facing additional self-defense does not deter crime. Specifically, we find no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. Moreover, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out meaningful deterrence effects.
The study undermines LaPierre's organization's defense of "Kill At Will" laws, which were enacted across the nation after dogged lobbying efforts by the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council. LaPierre wasn't asked about the study during his Fox appearance, but was instead given free rein to make a number of misleading claims about the nature of "Kill At Will" laws.
LaPierre described Florida's "Kill At Will" law, and similar laws nationwide that remove the duty to retreat before employing deadly force outside of the home while often adding the presumption that the use of deadly force was lawful, as "completely unremarkable." Contrary to LaPierre's characterization, increased scrutiny of "Kill At Will" laws has uncovered numerous instances in which the laws have been tied to seemingly avoidable killings.
On his radio show last Friday, Rush Limbaugh once again promoted the baseless conspiracy theory that the failed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was conceived as an elaborate plot to destroy the Second Amendment.
After playing clips from last week's annual House Judiciary Committee Department of Justice Oversight hearing, Limbaugh unleashed a tirade where he purported to explain "what's going on here." According to Limbaugh,"one of the purposes" of Fast and Furious was to point to crimes committed by Mexican drug cartels "then say 'we gotta do something about the Second Amendment'":
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Now let me tell you what's going on here. You know the purpose of Fast and Furious, one of the purposes was, to get those guns across the border in the hands of Mexican drug cartels, have crimes committed, and then say we gotta do something about the Second Amendment. How do American guns get to Mexico? Well we got them there because we gave them. That was never supposed to be discovered. Now the Second Amendment argument or rationale here goes to the motive for doing what Holder and the [Department of Justice] did. They wanted controversy around guns, they wanted American guns in Mexico. But the problem, they engaged in reckless tactics. And the pretext for allowing the guns to walk across the border was to be able later to trace them to crime scenes and then build a case against the Mexican drug cartels. And all experienced agents who looked at this thought that it was insane, because, a) there wouldn't be crime scenes unless we walked the guns across the border, and used in crimes, so we created the crimes by making the guns available, therefore were contributing to violent criminality. And even if you traced the guns to the crime scenes that you create you wouldn't cinch the case against these particular cartels because you wouldn't know for sure enough information to nail them. This was a disaster. And now that people are trying to get to the bottom of it, a stonewall is taking place. And this is just part of it that you heard sound bites from yesterday between Holder and Chaffetz and Darrell Issa.
Though Limbaugh used the congressional hearing as a jumping off point for his conspiracy theory, neither Issa nor Chaffetz actually alleged a conspiracy against the Second Amendment during the hearing. Despite a complete lack of evidence, the idea that Fast and Furious was a plot to undermine the Second Amendment has been promoted frequently by conservative conspiracy theorists like Limbaugh, the NRA, and Fox News.
The theory has been debunked by the ongoing Republican-led House Oversight Committee investigation into the botched ATF operation. According to a May 3 memorandum released by House Oversight Chair Issa, the purpose of Fast and Furious was to take down "cartel operatives including possible high-level financiers, suppliers, and possibly even king-pins." In a June 2011 joint staff report, Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote, "The purpose [of Fast and Furious] was to wait and watch, in the hope that law enforcement could identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case."
This week, National Rifle Association president David Keene will moderate a "conservative conversation" at the Chicago Conservative Political Action Conference with NRA board member Maria Heil, Illinois State Rifle Association executive director Richard Pearson, and Wisconsin Tea Party figure Kimberly Jo Simac. Keene and the panelists all have a history of extreme and conspiratorial rhetoric.
Conservative media outlets are credulously reporting House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's claim that wiretap applications signed by senior Justice Department officials "prove" they "approved" of dangerous gunwalking tactics in the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious, contradicting prior DOJ statements. In doing so, they ignore that the DOJ has repeatedly stated that senior officials do not necessarily review wiretap applications themselves, but rather largely rely on summaries of those applications produced by line attorneys.
"Documents prove senior Justice officials approved Fast and Furious, Issa says," reads the headline of Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle's latest foray into reporting on the ATF's fatally flawed gunwalking operation.
Leaning heavily on Issa's just-released letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Boyle reports that Issa has obtained wiretap applications for that operation that were signed by senior DOJ officials. Boyle notes that Issa claims those documents "show that immense details about questionable investigative tactics were available" to those officials via those applications, supposedly disproving numerous DOJ statements that senior officials there were not privy to the details of gunwalking.
But there's one question that this sort of credulous recitation of Issa's claims does not address: Did those officials actually review the wiretap applications that Issa says contained that information? According to prior DOJ statements dating back to at least last year, the answer is no.
This is not the first time Issa has claimed that wiretap applications supposedly proved knowledge of gunwalking techniques on the part of senior DOJ officials. In February, his committee made similar allegations, claiming in a staff report that "Congressional investigators have learned about the information contained in one Wiretap Authorization and Wiretap Affidavit from Fast and Furious that Jason Weinstein signed. The Wiretap Affidavit presented Weinstein with the details of at least two instances in which ATF agents had witnessed illegal straw purchasing and the subsequent transfer of the purchased weapons to other individuals."
But Politico reported at the time that "Weinstein told investigators that it was his 'general practice' not to read the underlying affidavits in such cases but to rely on a so-called cover memo prepared by another Justice Department office." This was consistent with Politico's report last November in response to similar claims that the wiretap applications could have bearing on what senior DOJ officials knew of Fast and Furious:
The Justice official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said wiretap applications are reviewed by another DOJ office which writes a detailed cover memo that is usually the focus of review by Breuer's staff.
"What gets pulled out for their review is therough the lens of those two questions: necessity and probably cause," the official said.
In a letter that the committee's ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), released in response to Issa's letter today, he reiterated these points in even greater detail.
The Orlando Sentinel writes today on the gun lobby's efforts to make hay over gun rights prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns' program to fund public officials who work to reduce the spread of illegal guns (emphasis added):
Gun-rights advocates are squaring off against Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer for hiring a new city employee to spearhead the city's fight against illegal guns.
Dyer said the city is simply targeting so-called "crime guns" that end up in the hands of felons. But a gun-rights group argues that public employees shouldn't be trying to erode the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Are those employees truly working to "erode the Second Amendment"? According to statements from Mayor Dyer ("We have no interest in eroding citizens' Second Amendment rights. I'm a gun-toting hunter myself") and the employee, Linda Vaughn, as well as MAIG's mission statement and the policies MAIG supports (closing the "gun-show loophole" and preventing the passage of concealed carry reciprocity), no. All of that information is included elsewhere in the Sentinel's article.
Nonetheless, the Sentinel reports that the gun lobby views MAIG as "a group of gun haters whose agenda is more far-reaching," without stating outright that there is no evidence to support that contention.
In doing so, the Sentinel acts to privilege the lie. The story is based in its entirety on criticisms from gun activists and their contention that MAIG, Dyer, and the staffer are engaged in an effort to undermine the Second Amendment. But rather than state clearly that a group with a conservative political agenda is making baseless claims, the paper merely reports, "Group A says X, while Group B says Y." Who's to know which side is right?
Without that central premise that this program is supposedly intended to further a "gun hating" cause, the story becomes far less interesting. After all, mayors hire staffers to carry out their public agenda. Gun crime prevention is an issue of concern for many mayors, including Dyer, so they seek to hire staffers to focus on that problem full-time, just as they might hire staffers to oversee city efforts on disaster recovery or business development.
In this particular case, a non-profit foundation is willing to help out with the costs, saving the city money. This is far from the first time private money has been used to support public work - for example, the tax forms of the National Rifle Association Foundation reveal dozens of grants to local municipalities to fund gun range improvements and gun safety courses.
The right-wing website Daily Caller yesterday published an article by Jim Pontillo, the firearms manufacturer they have partnered with for their controversial gun giveaway promotion. The publication drew criticism last week following the revelation of Pontillo's past racially offensive and insurrectionist writings.
Pontillo's article for the "Guns and Gear" section is a list of the "Top 10 Guns You'll Find at the Neighborhood Liberal Gun Store" and disparages a wide range of Democratic politicians. Pontillo's list includes the "Pelosi Clinton Mini Derringer" ("Pull the trigger and this pocket pistol shrieks and cackles. No man can stand to be in the vicinity when this thing goes off.").
The Daily Caller's decision to publish Pontillo's political musings comes only a week after the website said his views were irrelevant, telling the Washington Post, "All that's germane to the contest is that he's a fully licensed firearms manufacturer. If we were giving away iPads, the political views of Apple would also be irrelevant." The Caller's decision to feature Pontillo's work follows their "Guns and Gear" section editor's disclosure that he and Pontillo came up with the idea for the Caller gun promotion together.
This is not the first time Pontillo has written for the Caller. In December he authored a rambling piece for the site criticizing "those who lament America's cultural evolution toward secular society" for "devoid[ing] the moral absolutes that served our Founding Fathers" and attacking "the political class and by the main stream media" for supposedly disparaging his customers.
During an interview on NRA News, Mike Piccione, editor of Daily Caller's "Guns and Gear" section, and host Ginny Simone spoke of "a team effort" between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Caller to promote gun ownership. During the interview Piccione said he hoped to expand his online publication's controversial gun giveaway promotion by giving away a firearm to a Caller email list subscriber who signs up for an NRA membership.
MIKE PICCIONE, DAILY CALLER GUNS AND GEAR EDITOR: Check back though because we're going to do a few things. One thing I want to do is I want to give a gun to somebody that joins the National Rifle Association from the Daily Caller.
GINNY SIMONE, HOST: Alrighty.
PICCIONE: Absolutely. Join the NRA and we'll support you.
SIMONE: It's a team effort.
Piccione also admitted that the gun giveaway promotion was the result of a brainstorm session with far right-wing gun manufacturer Jim Pontillo.
The Caller at one point distanced themselves from Pontillo's political views when confronted with extreme and racial comments about President Obama made by prize gun manufacturer Pontillo, telling The Washington Post, "All that's germane to the contest is that he's a fully licensed firearms manufacturer. If we were giving away iPads, the political views of Apple would also be irrelevant." But the next day, Piccione told NRA News host Ginny Simone that he came up with the idea for the promotion with his "friend" Pontillo in order to "remind people" that Caller is "pro-Constitution" and "pro-gun."
During a May 23 appearance on NRA News' Cam & Company, John Frazer, the research director for the National Rifle Association's lobbying arm, attacked a new Violence Policy Center (VPC) study while failing to acknowledge that the main premise of the study is true: gun deaths now outpace motor vehicle deaths in 10 states.
[Violence Policy Center, 5/22/2012]
Using the most recently available data, VPC also demonstrated that nationwide motor vehicle deaths have declined over the last decade while gun related deaths ticked up during this period. VPC attributes this difference to successful regulation of motor vehicles and a lack of such regulation with regard to guns.
[Violence Policy Center, 5/22/2012]
In response to the study, Frazer was forced to make the contrived argument that only fatal accidents involving firearms should be compared to accidental motor vehicle deaths. At no point during the interview did he acknowledge that in a number of states the total number of deaths as a result of firearm use exceeded deaths resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle or that the gap between the firearm and motor vehicle death rate is narrowing.
FRAZER: What [VPC] are talking about is a pure apples and oranges comparison. They are comparing total numbers across the board, which is a completely invalid comparison because obviously most vehicle deaths are accidents. So if they really want an aggregate comparison they should compare motor vehicle accidents to firearmsaccidents, and firearms accidents are at their lowest point in recorded history.
But an aggregate comparison is exactly what VPC did.
Just one day after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) disbanded its Public Safety and Elections Task Force that was responsible for model voter ID and "Kill At Will" self-defense legislation like that linked to Trayvon Martin's death, a new organization emerged to carry the torch for the implementation of voter ID laws nationwide.
In an April 18 press release, the innocuous-sounding National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) heralded "the formation of a 'Voter Identification Task Force,' intended to continue the excellent work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in promoting measures to enhance integrity in voting." According to NCPPR chair Amy Ridenour, "conservatives will kick up our support for voter integrity programs. We're putting the left on notice: you take out a conservative program operating in one area, we'll kick it up a notch somewhere else. You will not win. We outnumber you and we outthink you, and when you kick up a fuss you inspire us to victory."
NCPPR's press release ominously concluded with a claim that NCPPR was prepared to pull a metaphoric gun on its political opponents: "Unlike [ALEC critic] the Center for American Progress, the National Center for Public Policy Research eschews the use of violent references such as 'War Room.' We are, however, inspired by a particular passage in the 1987 movie 'The Untouchables': 'They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way.' Indeed." So much for eschewing violent references.
It was only fitting then that the National Rifle Association, the former private sector co-chair of ALEC's disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force, would give NCPPR free publicity. During the May 22 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company, NCPPR adjunct fellow Horace Cooper appeared to discuss his organization's voter fraud hysteria.
The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and employees of Fox News have repeatedly shielded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) from criticism without disclosing that parent company News Corp. is a member of that organization.
Since mid-April the Journal has defended ALEC, a shadowy conservative organization backed by corporate giants that tailors model bills for state legislatures, in two editorials and also published two op-eds attacking the group's critics. Fox News likewise highlighted the criticism of ALEC in at least five April segments, with Bill O'Reilly describing its opponents as "very, very vicious" and questioning whether they were engaging in "blackmail." The network even hosted ALEC's communications director to defend the group. In none of those segments or articles was News Corp.'s ALEC membership mentioned.
This morning the Center for Media and Democracy, which rigorously monitors ALEC, reported:
Documents obtained and released by Common Cause show that News Corp. was a member of ALEC's Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force as of April 2010. Adam Peshek, who staffs ALEC's Education Task Force, told Education Week that News Corp. has been a member of both ALEC's Education Task Force and Communications and Technology Task Force since January 2012.
ALEC has come under fire in recent months for promoting model state legislation for restrictive voter ID laws and Kill at Will self-defense laws similar to the Florida statute cited in the Trayvon Marton killing. Progressives have responded by urging legislators, corporations, and organizations affiliated with ALEC to cut their ties. At least 19 corporate or non-profit members and 54 state legislators have left the group as a result of the campaign.
News Corp.'s conservative media entities have pushed back against this campaign, claiming that progressives are "playing the race card" as part of a "remarkable political assault," and lauded companies that have yet to disassociate themselves from ALEC. But they have not disclosed that their own parent company is one of those ALEC members.
In 2010 News Corp. drew criticism -- including from shareholders -- following the disclosure that the company had donated $2.25 million to GOP-linked groups including the Republican Governors Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. After that information was revealed, Fox News offered only intermittent disclosure of those donations during their reports on gubernatorial races and the chamber.
The company subsequently adopted "a new policy to publicly disclose corporate political contributions annually on News Corporation's corporate web site." Any ALEC membership fees paid by News Corp. are not indicated in their disclosure of corporate political contributions for 2011, which lists only contributions to candidates for office and political action and party committees.