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June 28, 2012 10:00 AM Fast and … Loose?

By Mark Kleiman

Just in time for the Darrell Issa/NRA attempt to cite the Attorney General for Contempt of Congress, Katherine Eban of Fortune reports on what actually happened in the “Fast and Furious” case. Answer: not much. ATF tried to make cases against a group of gun-runners, but couldn’t get prosecutors interested. One of the suspects bought the gun later used to murder a Border Patrol agent. There was no deliberate attempt to let guns “walk” into Mexico, merely an illustration of the weakness of our current laws against gun trafficking.

In other words, as an IRS agent involved in the task force says:

Republican senators are whipping up the country into a psychotic frenzy with these reports that are patently false.

Hmmm … Republicans … psychotic frenzy … false reports. Does sound sorta familiar, doesn’t it?

And the top leadership of the Justice Department, showing a profile in cowardice, is not backing up its people, while most of the press is content to report the “he said-she said” without ever examining the underlying facts.

I admit to having wrongly taken the case at what seemed to be its face value: that the ATF tried to make cases against the gun suppliers for the Mexican drug organizations by allowing guns to move into Mexico, and carelessly let some of the guns get away. Too bad, I thought, but nothing more than a fairly routine drug sell-and-bust applied to the gun trade. And no surprise that the ATF fouled up, as it’s notoriously not the best-managed agency in the government, which is of course just what the NRA and its Congressional servants want. But apparently even that benign interpretation wasn’t benign enough to fit the facts.

As to the merits of the contempt citation, I don’t know whether Eric Holder is right to say that the documents Darrell Issa is demanding would compromise ongoing investigations. What I do know is that the contrast with the handling of Alberto Gonzales in the U.S. Attorney firings is extreme. If one side continues to practice Olympic-rules boxing while the other does Extreme Fighting, guess who’s likely to win?

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles.