It's 'Fast and Furious,' so don't blink

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The Obama administration and its media partisans now navigating the "Fast and Furious" drama and looking ahead to the far more scandalous matter of classified intelligence leaks should remember this name: Valerie Plame.

And this one: Katrina.

With "Fast and Furious," as with the Valerie Plame affair, it won't matter what the truth is, or whether a crime was even committed, so long as someone is held accountable for a now reviled policy and so long as that politico's side is publicly condemned.

With "Fast and Furious," as with Hurricane Katrina, it won't matter who created the conditions for tragedy to unfold; it will only matter on whose watch the uncontrollable happened and how they responded -- or failed to.

The House of Representatives voted Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over Justice Department documents subpoenaed for its investigation into "Fast and Furious." The vote came one week after President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege to prevent their release.

The still unfolding details of "Fast and Furious," the botched gun-tracking operation in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are convoluted and conflicting.

Readers interested in achieving as nonpartisan an understanding as possible should read both the brand-new Fortune magazine investigation and a Fox News compilation. Both are available online. (Fortune's account puts considerable stock in interviews with participants in the events, some of whom have a stake in the investigation's outcome, while the Fox timeline limits its coverage to official documents.)

The truth is in the details, but in political theater the truth rarely matters.

It certainly didn't matter in the Valerie Plame case. It didn't matter that the source for Robert Novak's column identifying Ms. Plame as a CIA employee was the State Department's Richard Armitage, not vice presidential aide Scooter Libby.

It didn't matter that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could not prove to a grand jury's satisfaction that identifying her had actually been a crime.

It didn't matter that her husband Joe Wilson's investigation and subsequent New York Times editorial had actually bolstered the claim of British and Italian intelligence that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium in Niger.

It didn't matter that intelligence analysts assessing Iraq's threat vowed they were never politically pressured to reach a conclusion that would justify war.

And so on: There's a very long list of facts that did not support the unfolding media narrative of evil machinations by an administration hell-bent on war, so those facts were ignored.

The truth didn't matter. All that mattered was that the left could land a serious blow against someone close to the vice president, whom they loathed.

And so it is now, in our political fun house mirror. Or so you could argue.

As the left opposed Dick Cheney and his actions as George W. Bush's vice president, so the right opposes Mr. Holder and his actions as Mr. Obama's attorney general.

Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., opened his "Fast and Furious" investigation after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in December 2010 and two assault weapons recovered at the scene were traced to a man under surveillance by the Phoenix, Ariz., ATF office.

But the Phoenix-only "Fast and Furious" project unfolded well after "Project Gunrunner," a nationwide ATF gun-tracking program, was launched -- with press releases -- in 2006.

If the groundbreaking project started back then but went tragically awry with Agent Terry's murder -- an event beyond anyone but the murderer's control -- which administration is responsible?

George W. Bush had no part in New Orleans' fiscally corrupt, decades-long neglect of its own levees, but when Hurricane Katrina hit and the levees failed, who got blamed for the ensuing disaster? Which administration was pilloried for failing to respond quickly and straightforwardly when uncontrollable events demanded it?

The Obama administration's handling of "Fast and Furious" thus far fails the Katrina test. Gunrunner started before it took the reins in Washington, but the administration's response to tragedy has been inaccurate at best, high-handed and dishonest at worst. Was executive privilege invoked to protect undercover agents, or was it to hide the adminstration's bungling? Does it really matter why?

Left-wing media partisans who ignored "Fast and Furious" until the Holder contempt vote are now suggesting that it's a lunatic conspiracy theory or a house of cards.

No, it's more like a poker game. Nobody's right or wrong -- it just matters whether you can get the other guy to blink -- and whether you can get him to lie under oath to hide his political "tell."


Ruth Ann Dailey: First Published July 2, 2012 12:00 AM


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