Right-wing media are trying to damage President Obama's nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by baselessly claiming he was involved in the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious.
The failed gun trafficking sting Operation Fast and Furious ended with the indictment of 34 defendants on January 25, 2011. The investigative tactics, which involved the misguided attempt by Arizona ATF agents to track weapons to high-level targets rather than interdicting the traffickers when the opportunity presented itself, concluded some months earlier. The tactics used in Fast and Furious triggered months of controversy and the resignation of then-Acting Director Kenneth Melson. On August 30, 2011, the ATF announced that B. Todd Jones had been appointed acting director.
Conservative media have nonetheless attempted to use a June 11 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the nomination of Jones for permanent appointment as a springboard to suggest that he was involved in Fast and Furious, which concluded months before he joined ATF.
Mike Huckabee claimed on June 9 edition of his Fox News program that Jones "allegedly helped cover up the [Fast and Furious] scandal" while misidentifying him as "the former number two boss at ATF." Again misidentifying Jones as "a supervisor at ATF" -- he actually continues to work as a U.S. attorney while serving as acting ATF director -- Huckabee added, "Should we be concerned that here's a guy who knew about Fast and Furious, according to many sources including [ATF whistleblower Vince Cefalu] helped cover it up, now he's going to lead the agency?"
During the segment Fox used a chyron that asked, "What did Obama's pick for ATF Dir. know about 'Fast & Furious'?"
Conservative commentators have also posited that Jones was involved in Fast and Furious because he attended a meeting, in his capacity as chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys (AGAC), that concerned ATF plans to crack down on the trafficking of guns into Mexico. But there is no evidence the tactics used in Fast and Furious were discussed at that meeting.
The agency responsible for the enforcement of federal gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), has not had a permanent director since 2006 largely due to obstruction from the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress. Today, a Senate hearing will consider President Obama's nomination of current acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones for permanent director.
Fox News contributor and Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich made the unfounded claim that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano lied about her knowledge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms' Operation Fast and Furious, a failed gun trafficking sting. This accusation is a serious one, as Napolitano has testified under oath before Congress that she was unaware of the ATF program while it was ongoing.
Pavlich's claim, which centers around the fact that Napolitano has a relationship with the former U.S. attorney involved in Fast and Furious, is entirely speculative and is unsupported by a recent independent investigation by the DHS Office of the Inspector General. The report concluded, "The DHS Secretary did not learn about Operation Fast and Furious, its flawed methodology, or that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] had assigned an [Homeland Security Investigations] special agent to the task force until mid-March 2011" when the existence of the operation was public knowledge.
But according to Pavlich it is "implausible" that Napolitano didn't know about Fast and Furious while the operation was ongoing because of her "personal and professional relationship" with former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, who was involved in Fast and Furious. From the March 25 edition of Fox & Friends:
GRETCHEN CARLSON, HOST: So you do not believe that it's feasible that Janet Napolitano did not know about this before she said she did?
PAVLICH: It really is implausible that Janet Napolitano is getting off scot-free with this report. Let me tell you why. Former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, who was in charge of the Department of Justice side of Operation Fast and Furious in Arizona, has a longstanding personal and professional relationship with Janet Napolitano. He served as her staffer when Janet Napolitano was the attorney general in Arizona, as her chief of staff when she was governor of Arizona, followed her into Washington D.C. as her advisor for Homeland Security for a year before being appointed back to U.S. Attorney by President Obama. At the same time he was in Arizona he was serving on Attorney General Eric Holder's advisory board and he was with Janet Napolitano two days after the murder of [U.S. Border Patrol agent] Brian Terry in Arizona and yet this report claims they never talked about this case. But it seems as if Janet Napolitano would ask about it at least.
Pavlich's claim that Napolitano is lying about her knowledge of Fast and Furious is entirely premised on an assumption about the relationship between Napolitano and Burke and is plainly contradicted by the DHS OIG report which found no evidence that Napolitano had any knowledge of the operation prior to what she indicated in testimony before Congress.
A good deal has been written about how Mitt Romney's answers on Libya at last night's presidential debate illustrated the degree to which his foreign policy is influenced by the closed conservative media feedback loop. But there was another moment from Romney last night on gun violence prevention that might indicate the degree to which the fringe right influences the Republican candidate's campaign rhetoric.
In the middle of his answer to a question about limiting "the availability of assault weapons," Romney launched into a discourse on Operation Fast and Furious, the failed gun trafficking sting. Romney called it the "greatest failure we've had with regards to gun violence" and intimated that no one knows why it was initiated: "For what purpose it was put in place, I can't imagine. ... I'd like to understand who it was that did this, what the idea was behind it, why it led to the violence, thousands of guns going to Mexican drug lords."
What made this so odd was that there isn't any uncertainty as to what the idea behind Fast and Furious was. The operation was intended to identify and dismantle the cross-border gun-trafficking rings that operate within the United States and Mexico, and both the Justice Department's inspector general and House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) have released reports affirming that fact.
During the October 3 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy baselessly speculated that Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie, who was fatally shot while on patrol near the Mexican border, was killed with weapons involved in the failed Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking sting. News outlets later reported that Agent Ivie's death was the result of friendly fire. But Fox & Friends has remained silent on the story, even as several other Fox News programs have reported on the friendly fire incident.
Kilmeade stated that the border shooting "raises tons of new questions, including whether or not the guns that killed Agent Ivie were tied to Operation Fast and Furious." Later in the segment, Doocy fueled the speculation during a discussion with former U.S. Customs Service Special Agent Terry Kirkpatrick:
DOOCY: Terry, while it's still too early, the investigation is just barely started into the firearm that was used to kill our guy, would it surprise you if one of the guns from Fast and Furious was one of the guns used?
KIRKPATRICK: You know and honestly it would not surprise me if that was one of the guns that was lost in the ATF scandal.
At the time of the Fox & Friends segment on October 3, reports indicated that no weapons had been recovered in connection to the shooting.
State and local officials told NBC News that the ruling of friendly fire "is based on an analysis of the ballistics, the lack of evidence of other criminals in the area at the time, and other factors." According to the president of the National Border Patrol Council, Agent Ivie encountered two other agents in heavy brush and opened fire believing them to be smugglers. He was killed in the return fire. One other agent sustained nonfatal gunshot wounds.
On conservative pundit Frank Gaffney's radio show yesterday, Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle falsified congressional testimony by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz concerning Operation Fast and Furious. Boyle incorrectly claimed that Horowitz testified that it was "unfathomable" that Attorney General Eric Holder was unaware of controversial tactics employed during the failed gun trafficking sting.
In actuality, when Horowitz was asked, "Did you find any evidence that Attorney General Holder approved of the gun walking tactics that are under investigation -- that have been under investigation by this committee?" during a September 20 House Oversight Committee hearing, he responded, "We found no evidence that the attorney general was aware in 2010, before Senator Grassley's letter, of Operation Fast and Furious and the tactics associated with it." [C-SPAN via Nexis, 9/20/12]
But in an interview, Boyle distorted this testimony. He indicated that Horowitz stated before Congress that Holder was aware of the tactics used in Fast and Furious. From Boyle's interview:
BOYLE: So the point is, is that at this point in time it's very hard to believe that Holder didn't know. And the IG [Inspector General] has actually said that before Congress. He has actually -- I can't remember the exact quote off the top of my head -- but he said something like that, "It's unfathomable that the Attorney General was unaware of this when everybody who works for him was." So basically what has happened here is there is there is a culture of plausible deniability that has been created around Holder. [emphasis added]
An independent report issued by the Office of the Inspector General on September 19 reached the opposite conclusion, stating, "We found no evidence that Attorney General Holder was informed about Operation Fast and Furious, or learned about the tactics employed by ATF in the investigation, prior to January 31, 2011."
During his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh again claimed that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was hatched as an Obama administration plot to disarm Americans.
Limbaugh's baseless claim was refuted by a report onthe failed gun trafficking sting released by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General on Wednesday. The DOJ watchdog found "no evidence" that the agents involved in Fast and Furious had "improper motives" and that the goal of the operation was "dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization."
RUSH LIMBAUGH: American people don't want to give up their guns. What do you do? What liberals always do. Try to create a false narrative or impression that the American people have had it and are fed up with it and we got to get guns out of people's hands. They want that cry erupting from all over America. So many people think that the point of Fast and Furious was very simple: get these guns into the hands of some of the deadliest, vicious, trigger happy criminals you can find. And they are very close. They run drug cartels south of the border. They're in Mexico. So you give them the guns and they will go crazy. Because people die in gun raids, drug cartel activities every day. And what happened was one of our agents, Brian Terry, died and more than a hundred Mexicans. And what was supposed to happen, the American people were supposed to hear this news and they were supposed to be outraged at two things. A, that drug cartels have American guns. You mean it's that easy that some local weed can cross the border buy a gun and take it home to Mexico and another to stop -- that's right. And then they start shooting people. The outcry was supposed to -- the American people were supposed to rise up in indignation. So you've gotta shut that down. We've got to stop making guns so easily. That's what they were trying to shape public opinion so that you ended up demanding gun control.
But Limbaugh's theory -- which MSNBC host Rachael Maddow termed the "specific" version of the National Rifle Association's grand conspiracy that Obama secretly plans to eliminate the Second Amendment if re-elected -- was debunked by the Inspector General report:
The right-wing media's conspiracy theory that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was hatched as a nefarious plot by the Obama administration to impose draconian gun control upon the United States has been debunked by an independent investigation into the failed gun trafficking sting.
According to a report issued by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, there is "no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization." This is consistent with a June 2011 report by Republican congressional staff, which found that "The operation's goal was to establish a nexus between straw purchasers of assault-style weapons in the United States and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) operating on both sides of the United States-Mexico border." From the OIG report (emphasis added):
ATF's Phoenix Field Division, together with the U.S. Attorney's Office, bore primary responsibility for the conduct of Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. While we found no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization, we concluded that the conduct and supervision of the investigations was significantly flawed. For reasons described in Chapters Three and Four, the Phoenix and Tucson offices adopted and adhered to a strategy that deferred taking overt action against subjects, even when evidence of the illegality of the purchasing activity was overwhelming, and we concluded, did so without adequate consideration of how that strategy placed the public at risk and what measures could be taken to minimize that risk. Further, as the case progressed, there was no discussion about whether the goals of the investigation should yield to what should have been an imperative to end the firearms trafficking taking place.
The Inspector General also specifically found no link between Operation Fast and Furious and plans to regulate firearms. According to the report, there is "no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation." The report also found that then-Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson did not use Fast and Furious as a justification for an ATF-backed reporting requirement for the sale of multiple assault rifles that went into effect in August 2011. From the report (emphasis added):
Melson told the OIG that the impetus for the long gun reporting requirement came from him, though he could not recall the date that he asked his staff to pursue the matter. He also stated that when he discussed the long gun reporting requirement with staff at ATF Headquarters, "[n]o one ever suggested that [Operation Fast and Furious] was being done for purposes of supporting our position on the long guns," and that he did not make any decisions concerning the case in order to increase the likelihood that the long gun reporting requirement would be implemented. We found no evidence that contradicted Melson's statements to us concerning the long gun reporting requirement; and no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation.
This report directly contradicts baseless claims made about Fast and Furious by members of the right-wing media and National Rifle Association leadership.
The Associated Press and CNN recently debunked an op-ed featured at The Daily Caller that suggested a recent ammunition purchase by the Social Security Administration evidenced an Obama plot to kill American citizens en masse. The bizarre theory is hardly the first conspiratorial idea to be promoted on the opinion page of The Daily Caller.
On August 12, Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle published an article trumpeting a book's inflammatory claim that Attorney General Eric Holder ordered raids against medical marijuana dispensaries in California in order to distract from the failed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious. But during an interview on NRA News last night, Boyle admitted that there was "not really any evidence" to substantiate the claim.
Boyle's article is largely a regurgitation of allegations made in an excerpt released from the forthcoming book Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana - Medical, Recreational and Scientific, authored by Martin A. Lee. In fact, his article is so reliant on Lee's claims that quotations of the author comprise nearly two-thirds of the 708 word piece.
But on Monday, Boyle acknowledged on NRA News that "there is not really any evidence" to support Lee's claims, only "coincidental ... timing." Indeed, Lee's allegation that "The Justice Department green-lit a scorched earth campaign against medicinal cannabis in order to placate law enforcement and control the damage from the Fast and Furious scandal by deflecting attention to other matters" seems to be based solely on the fact that four federal prosecutors in California announced the raids the same day Holder sent a letter to Issa "defending his handling of the Fast and Furious affair."
From NRA News:
CAM EDWARDS, NRA NEWS HOST: The media was basically ignoring [Fast and Furious]. They didn't want this to be a scandal. I don't know if I necessarily buy the argument that Eric Holder decided to, you know, go after medical marijuana dispensaries in California and crack down and launch this, you know, huge assault to distract from Fast and Furious. Does he have any evidence to back this up?
BOYLE: I mean he is using, basically, the coincidental same timing of everything that's going on at the same time. I mean it does kind of makes in sense in that there's only so many reporters in the mainstream media covering the Department of Justice. And if they've got a choice, "Ok we can cover that Eric Holder is going after medical marijuana dispensaries" or "Eric Holder is arming the Mexican drug cartels." Which one is the mainstream media going to pick? Eric Holder is enforcing the law. That's what they are going to pick. That's the storyline that they are going to cover because we all know that the majority of mainstream reporters are lazy and that they are not going to dig into the real scandals and the real stories that plague this Obama administration. And basically that's kind of where his argument makes a little bit of sense. But I mean he doesn't really have any more evidence other than essentially the politics of coincidence. And the timing all lines up. But other than that -- I mean we will have to wait and see when the book comes out, to see if there is any more real concrete evidence in there --
BOYLE: -- but in the excerpt that was published this weekend, no, there is not really any evidence.
While Boyle said that "we will have to wait and see when the book comes out, to see if there is any more real concrete evidence" of Lee's claims, he did not explain why he chose to write a story on the allegations in the absence of such evidence.
The Daily Caller: Where "the politics of coincidence" are evidence enough to justify an article - as long as it targets the Obama administration.
Lou Dobbs last night conducted a fawning interview with Mike Vanderboegh and David Codrea, two bloggers who recently filed a complaint against Attorney General Eric Holder with the District of Columbia's Office of Bar Counsel. At no point did Dobbs note that Vanderboegh is an ex-militia conspiracist who has urged his readers to commit vandalism against Democrats and allegedly inspired a terrorist plot to kill federal employees.
On his Fox Business show, Dobbs said to Vanderboegh, "You guys are considered in some quarters rather dangerous. You're fans of the Constitution, you seek truth, what has been the reaction to your activism?"
Vanderboegh's record of extremism includes:
Fox News reported Thursday that "two pro-gun advocates who reported extensively on the Fast and Furious scandal" have filed a complaint against Attorney General Eric Holder with the District of Columbia's Office of Bar Counsel. Somehow the network never got around to mentioning that one of those "advocates" is Mike Vanderboegh, the ex-militia blogger infamous for urging his readers to commit vandalism against Democrats and for inspiring an alleged terrorist plot to kill federal employees.
Last year, Fox News featured Vanderboegh in two separate reports on Fast and Furious, identifying him as an "online journalist" and an "authority on the Fast and Furious investigation." The network did not disclose Vanderboegh's past ties to the militia and Minuteman movements, history of conspiratorial rantings, or the fact that he made headlines in 2010 for telling his readers to respond to the passage of health care reform by breaking the windows of Democratic offices, then took credit after that occurred.
Fox ceased to cite Vanderboegh on-air after prosecutors in Georgia said that one of four alleged members of a militia group in that state had repeatedly cited Vanderboegh's novel Absolved as the source of their alleged plot to kill numerous government officials. In Vanderboegh's novel, which was self-published online, underground militia fighters declare war on the federal government over gun control laws and same-sex marriage, leading to a second American revolution.
In June, Vanderboegh predicted that if health care reform were found to be constitutional, it would trigger a violent insurrection against "government tyranny," stating, "You may call tyranny a mandate or you may call it a tax, but it still is tyranny and invites the same response."
But Fox correspondent William La Jeunesse included none of this context in passing on Vanderboegh's allegations on Happening Now:
The Daily Caller's Matthew Boyle is reporting that a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) memorandum in the possession of congressional investigators "described a specific operation in which guns were allowed to walk across the Mexican border" during Operation Fast and Furious. The memo was drafted and, according to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), "forwarded to DOJ headquarters" the day before the Justice Department told Congress that no such gunwalking had occurred. Boyle suggests that this indicates that DOJ knew gunwalking had occurred in Fast and Furious when they issued their statement to Congress, and thus that they "may have tried to cover up" the use of such activities. This assertion is false and is directly contradicted by the memo in question, which does not detail a gunwalking operation.
Instead the memo describes a case where ATF agents were forced to "leave the immediate area" of the stakeout of a suspected gun trafficker to avoid detection. While repositioning, the suspect left the area and eluded capture. From the memo:
Special Agent [Gary] Styers was asked to describe the operations and relayed that one of the operations was a suspected transaction that was to occur at a gas station and detailed agents were asked to cover the transaction. While positioning to observe the suspects, Special Agent Styers and other detailed agents were told by Special Agent [Hope] McAllister that the agents were too close and would burn the operation. Special Agent McAllister told all of the agents to leave the immediate area. While the agents were repositioning, the transaction between the suspects took place and the vehicle took possession of the firearms and eventually left the area without the agents following it.
What was described was an unsuccessful law enforcement operation, not ATF acquiescence to the illegal transfer of firearms. Boyle includes much of the text of that passage in his article, but nonetheless concludes that Styers was describing an operation "in which guns were allowed to walk across the Mexican border." Boyle also neglects to mention that Styers, the author of the memo, wrote that during his involvement in Fast and Furious "he did not see any firearms cross the border into Mexico."
This isn't the first time that Boyle has made false claims in his reporting that are easily contradicted by the very documents he cites. In September 2011, Boyle published an article claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was attempting to hire 230,000 new workers at a cost of $21 billion per year. The legal documents cited by Boyle actually indicated that this was a scenario the EPA wanted to -- and eventually did -- avoid.
Last week's House vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over documents related to the Operation Fast and Furious scandal has brought back the media myth that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a hugely-powerful organization that swings elections with its money and endorsements. But there's no evidence -- aside from the organization's media-abetted campaign to inflate its own influence -- that the NRA is an electoral force.
All 17 Democrats who voted to hold Holder in contempt received donations from the NRA. Additionally, the NRA, in an attempt to scare up more support for the contempt vote, announced that it would be scoring the vote for its candidate rating system. And based on the vote, the tactics seem to have worked, to some extent. As a result, some media coverage has predictably inflated the NRA's supposed electoral influence. But the vote is merely evidence that the NRA's campaign to portray itself as the most important lobbying group in the country has been successful.
In a post pondering "Why Is the NRA So Powerful?," Slate's Brian Palmer reinforces many of the media's favorite myths about the NRA, writing that the group "is considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country, despite relatively modest financial resources and just 4 million members." According to Palmer, the NRA "can reliably deliver votes."
But in truth, the NRA can't "reliably deliver votes" -- far from it.
During today's edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and guest Betsy McCaughey choose to ignore the significant role that the National Rifle Association played in yesterday's contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder.
Doocy twice highlighted the fact that 17 Democrats joined Republicans to cite Holder for contempt of Congress concerning Holder's failure to satisfy an inquiry led by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee investigation into the failed ATF Fast and Furious Operation. When Fox News contributor and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi suggested that the vote was about "politics," guest Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, disagreed, citing the decision of some Democrats to cross the aisle.
What was left unsaid is that every Democrat who voted to cite Holder in contempt has recently received money from the rabidly anti-Holder NRA.
DOOCY: As we've been telling you, the House of Representatives yesterday on a bipartisan basis voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
DOOCY: Joe [Trippi], it was a bipartisan vote, 16 Democrats went along with Republicans and said, You know, you really should give up those documents there is a dead guy we are talking about. A border patrol agent.
JOE TRIPPI: We don't do this like you know bullet vote [where] everyone has to vote the same way on the Democratic side of the aisle.
TRIPPI: I'm not talking about the credible facts [in Fast and Furious], whether they are there or not. It looks like its politics.
BETSY MCCAUGHEY: I don't think it does because Democrats voted for the contempt. And you know what, all of those Democrats walked out, the Congressional Black Caucus --
TRIPPI: 16 Democrats --
MCCAUGHEY: -- they didn't have the nerve to vote against the contempt motion. They posed this as a walk out. But you know what, that was cowardice. Either you vote for it or you vote against it. Walking out that's just stage show but with no convictions.
The NRA has, of course, been trying to effectuate Holder's ouster since the beginning. On April 30, 2011, in the earliest stages of the House Oversight Committee's investigation into Fast and Furious, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre declared, "Holder's got to go!" In media appearances, LaPierre continues to promote his insane belief that Fast and Furious was an Obama administration plot to destroy the Second Amendment.
In a June 20 letter to lawmakers in support of citing Holder for contempt, the NRA's top lobbyist, Chris Cox, informed Members of Congress that the NRA would score the vote for its candidate rating system. Of the 17 Democrats who voted for contempt, 16 protected their A or A+ NRA rating. Rep. Kathleen Hochul (D-NY) possesses an NRA endorsement, but no rating.
UPDATE: During yesterday's broadcast of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Doocy predicted that Democrats who voted for contempt would be influenced by the NRA's decision to score the contempt vote. Even though his prediction appears to have come true, Doocy did not mention the NRA's influence during today's Fox & Friends and instead adopted the narrative that the bipartisan outcome suggested that partisanship was not a motivating factor.
DOOCY: Regarding how come there are going to be so many Democrats vote against Eric Holder is the fact that the NRA said, "Ok, you know what we're going to do? We're going to score that vote." And what happens in Washington is anytime there is something that involve gun control the NRA says, "We're going to score it." And if people want a good score with the NRA, and if you're in a district where the NRA is important, you vote with what the NRA wants, which is contempt of Congress for Mr. Holder.