Column: Eric Holder's unanswered questions
"Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing. ... My administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use." -- President Obama, memo to heads of executive departments and agencies, Jan. 21, 2009
SAN DIEGO -- Apparently, Attorney General Eric Holder didn't get the memo. And President Obama had his fingers crossed when he wrote it.
As some journalists have already figured out, this administration is the opposite of transparent. Last year, The Associated Press reported that, in more than a third of the requests for public records in 2010, the Obama administration didn't provide any information at all. According to the AP, the administration is releasing fewer records under the Freedom of Information Act than were released during the George W. Bush administration. Officials even censored nearly 200 pages of internal emails about a directive on open government.
And nowhere is our government less open than at the Justice Department, especially when the subject at hand is a botched firearms undertaking known as "Fast and Furious."
In this ongoing saga, Holder recently criticized lawmakers -- who accuse him of withholding information about the operation -- for making him the first sitting attorney general to ever be held in contempt of Congress. Holder charged that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives was making him a "proxy" to attack Obama during an election year.
Twenty-one Democrats also voted for contempt, although dozens more walked out of the vote in protest.
Holder told The Washington Post that lawmakers were using the search for documents to retaliate against the Justice Department for its positions on a variety of issues ranging from immigration to gay marriage to voting rights. And he showed some contempt of his own for one Republican in particular -- Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, whom Holder accused of "nipping" at his heels.
In a classic "document dump" (a defensive maneuver that investigative reporters know well), the department has dropped a ton of paper on Issa's committee as it investigates the program carried out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The committee received as many as 7,600 documents.
Holder is such an overachiever. He needed to provide just one document with the answers to three questions: Who dreamed up the program? Who authorized it? Who knew about it? As a bonus, it would also be nice to know why President Obama invoked executive privilege to block a congressional subpoena asking for more, um, transparency.
As part of Fast and Furious, federal agents stood idly by as smugglers transported more than 2,000 guns into Mexico in the hopes that the trail of breadcrumbs would lead to a Mexican drug cartel. But what the plan led to was mayhem. Agents lost track of more than half the guns and those weapons wound up, according to Mexican authorities, adding to the carnage of a drug war that has killed more than 50,000.
The guns have also caused turmoil for Americans, turning up at crime scenes in Phoenix and other U.S. cities. Two of the weapons were found at the site where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered near the Mexican border in December 2010. And another might have been involved in the killing of Jaime Zapata, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was shot in Mexico in February 2011.
The debacle has obviously hurt U.S.-Mexico relations at a time when both countries need to come together to fight the cartels. Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, recently told attendees at a forum in Washington that, as a result of the operation, the Mexican public has come to doubt America's commitment to reducing violence in Mexico.
These developments should also put a pall over the Latino outreach efforts of Obama's re-election campaign. It probably won't because most of the outreach is aimed at Mexican-Americans, and -- speaking as one -- too many of them care more about being loyal Democrats than they care about what happens to their distant relatives south of the border.
This is disgraceful. Just like all the ugly details of Fast and Furious, and the extraordinary lengths to which this administration has gone to cover them up.
We're not quite at the point where Holder should resign. But we're close.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.