As the House prepares to vote this week on a resolution finding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has once again publicly subscribed to a conspiracy theory stating that ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious was an Obama administration effort to create the political will to enact stricter gun control.
The theory holds that the Obama administration gave weapons to Mexican drug cartels in the hopes that they would commit acts of violence, that the guns would be traced back to the United States and that the public would be scared into accepting tougher restrictions on firearms.
“By pushing the hallucinatory theory that the Administration cooked this whole thing up as a means to push for gun control, Issa has entered crazytown and has officially become the Dan Burton of our time,” a Democratic official told TPM.
As far fetched as it sounds, Issa’s support for it makes the whole matter worth examining. (For what it’s worth, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner did not respond to a request for comment on whether he believed the conspiracy theory.)
So, let’s say you want to think the Obama administration sent thousands of guns across the border in a mad plan to keep Americans from owning them at home. Here are five things you’d have to to believe in order to fully subscribe to the theory.
1.) That the Obama administration wanted to spend political capital on gun issues. When Fast and Furious started in 2009, the Obama administration was not talking about guns. There’s been little movement on the issue of guns their whole time in office — even after a member of Congress was shot — and the administration has in fact expanded gun rights in national parks and on Amtrak trains. The idea that they’d even want to touch the issue, or even thought that they could make any progress on it is simply not supported by the available facts.
2.) That DOJ officials contemporaneously created evidence to suggest that they never knew about the tactics being used. There are plenty of emails showing top DOJ officials rejecting the first suggestions that guns were allowed to walk during Operation Fast and Furious. For the Republican-backed gun control theory to be true, officials would have had to fake conversations in which they denied that the ATF allowed guns to walk to begin with. In an email sent on Feb. 2, 2011, then-U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke called staffers for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) “willing stooges for the Gun Lobby.” Not exactly the kind of thing you’d write in an email if you secretly knew the allegations were true and could anticipate such an email being publicly released.
3.) That the number of weapons going to Mexico wasn’t already sufficient enough. Plenty of weapons from the U.S. were headed to Mexico before Fast and Furious got underway in 2009. In fact, more weapons were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico before Fast and Furious got underway than after it had been going on for awhile. As Holder told Congress, Fast and Furious was “a flawed response to, not the cause of, the flow of illegal guns from the United States into Mexico.” In short, the few thousands weapons sent across the border as part of the program are a fraction of the total number of American firearms that end up as part of Mexico’s drug war.
4.) The whistleblowers who brought the tactics to light were also in on the gun-control conspiracy. Last spring, ATF agents tried to testify about how “toothless” gun laws weren’t allowing them to do their jobs. Issa tried to shut down the testimony, but it’s important to note that the very same individuals who were upset with the tactic being used also believed that Congress wasn’t doing enough to stop gun trafficking.
5.) The White House pretended not to know about an emergency reporting rule request. The one measure that the Obama administration has implemented since “Fast and Furious” is a minor regulation which treats so-called “long-guns” the same as handguns, but it is only in place in four border states. The measure (which Issa contends wasn’t necessary because he trusts dealers to provide the information voluntarily) was first proposed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2010, before Fast and Furious became a scandal and around the same time Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry died. Emails obtained by TPM through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show that officials with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) chastised the ATF for not notifying them before publishing an emergency request. Under the gun-control theory, they were lying in the email on the off-chance that someone eventually would FOIA the information.