Of Course 'Fast and Furious' Investigators Are Opportunists

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Critics of House Republicans keep saying they're just trying to score political points. But partisan hackery doesn't make transparency less important.

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Eugene Robinson thinks that Eric Holder is getting a raw deal in the Fast and Furious investigation, describing it as a "witch hunt" and an "inquisition," characterizations that strike me as a bit overwrought, unless the GOP has dusted off the John Yoo memos without telling anyone. Fast and Furious was "a grievous error," he writes, for even when it became clear that the illegal guns permitted into Mexico were used "as instruments of mayhem, the operation continued."

Then this passage:

The House wants to go fishing in a vast sea of documents, some of which relate to ongoing investigations. As a believer in sunshine and disclosure, I don't much care for questionable claims of executive privilege. But I like the politically motivated sideshow the GOP is staging even less.

That's really something.

A "questionable claim of executive privilege" is a transgression against the law, it impedes Congress from carrying out its vital oversight function, and keeps information from the American public. That's serious. Does Robinson really think a political sideshow is worse than all that?

Why?

I value partisan comity far less.

Absent the incentive to embarrass Democrats, I rather doubt Republicans would bother investigating Fast and Furious at all. And that would be a bad thing, especially if you think it was "grievous."

Says Robinson:

Congress has not only the right but also the duty to investigate how such a bad idea as gun-walking was conceived and executed over five years -- and to make sure nothing of the sort happens again. The problem is that Issa isn't interested in the truth. He just wants to score political points.

Issa's focus isn't on the operation itself. It's on what Holder and Justice Department officials did or did not say last year when questions were first raised.

But even if all that is true, shouldn't the American people know not just how gun-walking was conceived and executed at ATF, but also how higher-ups reacted to the program and its investigation? If they immediately launched an internal inquiry, disciplined the appropriate people, implemented reforms, and cooperated with legitimate Congressional oversight efforts, that would reflect well on DOJ staff and an Obama appointee who we may or may not want there in 2013.

Say, for the sake of argument, that instead higher-ups at DOJ reacted by promoting some of the people that should've been fired, or covering up key details, or utterly failing to implement adequate reforms, or willfully stymieing legitimate attempts at oversight to avoid political embarrassment.

Wouldn't Robinson regard those as legitimate, important discoveries? Yet he writes as if only the origins of the program are appropriate subjects of concern. I care about the origins too. But we rely on Attorneys General to oversee, to manage, to respond appropriately to ill-conceived law enforcement activities, and to interact with other agencies and branches of government. I want to know how they did all of that when confronted by a policy everyone now regards as indefensible.

And unlike Robinson, my thirst for answers is even more powerful than my aversion to partisan politics. I'd suggest anyone who feels otherwise is not in fact "a believer in sunshine and disclosure," because there has never been a Congressional investigation in which the participants weren't angling to score political points in one way or another. That's just how the system works. It's hard to make it to Congress, let alone a powerful committee, without being a partisan hack.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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