The Committee on House Oversight and Government Reform will be having a hearing today on the “Gunwalker” scandal almost guaranteed to fill any observer with disgust. It will be a markedly different kind of hearing than the previous hearings on the scandal chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa.
The hearings two weeks ago saw Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents testify about their role in Operation Fast and Furious, the multi-agency scheme that allowed gun smugglers to arm Mexican drug cartels with 2,000 or more weapons as federal law enforcement officers watched. Issa’s hearings included evidence of damning emails that showed acting ATF chief Kenneth Melson to be intimately familiar with the program, which has been blamed for the deaths of two U.S. federal agents and more than 150 Mexican police and soldiers.
The ATF’s parent agency, the Department of Justice (DOJ); the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) were all directly involved in the operation, which could not even have occurred without State Department approval.
But the committee hearing today isn’t about what Obama administration officials in the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security knew, or when they knew it, or about bringing those responsible for the dangerous plot to light to face accountability or possible criminal charges.
Instead, the minority hearing by Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings will be a forum for gun control activists such as Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke.
In an article at the Huffington Post, Helmke lays out the goals of the minority committee hearing in no uncertain terms:
If California Rep. Darrell Issa and other congressional members who are in lock-step with the NRA bosses want to get to the bottom of the ATF gun trafficking operation, they need to start looking at their own actions and lack of action. By blocking and loosening laws to prevent gun violence they, too, are culpable in ATF’s “Fast and Furious” apparent debacle.
The gun control advocate very clearly indicates that seeking out those responsible for signing off on this reprehensible and possibly criminal operation is not the purpose of his appearance at the Democrat-led meeting.
Helmke instead seeks to shift the blame for the government’s deadly decisions onto the National Rifle Association (NRA), American gun owners, and the Republican and Democratic lawmakers who will not pass the laundry list of anti-gun legislation that has long been on the Brady Foundation’s list of legislative priorities.
In all practical respects, Helmke’s appearance has nothing to do with Gunwalker, and everything to do with demagoguery. It is safe to assume that the other anti-gun organizations that will attend the hearing are likewise interested more in proselytizing than fact-finding or demanding accountability.
So why has Congressman Cummings called this hearing?
It is, sadly, a combination of grandstanding and defensive politics.
Cummings is a gun control advocate, and has been for quite some time — a position no doubt hardened by the murder of his nephew in April. But Cummings is also the ranking member of the Democratic delegation to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and was a member in the previous Congress where calls to clean up the organization by other whistleblowers had been ignored.
The primary reason Cummings is calling this hearing was clearly indicated in his actions earlier this year, when he refused to sign a letter to President Obama asking the White House to direct the Department of Justice to cooperate with the Gunwalker investigation. At the time the Oversight Committee had authored the letter asking the president to compel DOJ officials to provide documents relating to the scandal to the committee. Cummings refused to sign the letter asking for the evidence, which all other Democrats on the committee did.
Cummings’ aide defended his actions by claiming
that the Justice Department (DOJ) had recently been cooperating very well with Issa’s subpoena for documents relating to the gun-tracking operation.
“It’s not consistent with what we’ve been experiencing with DOJ,” the aide said. “As of late they’ve been cooperating and showing us documents and pulling together documents in response to the subpoena, so I can’t imagine that given what we know about the investigation that we would have signed a letter saying that DOJ was not cooperating.”
The assertion by Cummings’ aide that the DOJ ever cooperated with the Oversight Committee is a blatant falsehood. It is a statement of a party loyalist attempting to shield his president and by extension, the Democratic Party, as much as possible from expected Gunwalker fallout.
The reams of heavily redacted “black paper” submitted by the Justice Department to the Oversight Committee stood in stark contrast to the congressman’s claims of cooperation. In addition to sending useless blacked-out pages, the Department of Justice supplied just one witness to the Oversight Committee hearings — an official from a separate branch of the Justice Department from the Criminal Division that was the conduit to the ATF on Gunwalker. It was a bit of brinksmanship that allowed the DOJ to make the disgraceful if accurate claim that they did send “someone” to the Oversight hearings, even though that “someone” had the explicit job of saying “I don’t know” repeatedly.
Instead of seeking answers from those Obama administration officials who are culpable for a rogue government program that has left cops, soldiers, and civilians dead, the congressman from Baltimore will use his position in order to provide airtime to those who would place blame at the feet of American citizens.
There may be a more disreputable role for a congressman to play during such a scandal, but I’m finding it hard to think of one.