“Lie, noun, 1. A false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth.”
There are other words in the English language that dance around the edges of “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive” — misrepresentation, mendacity, falsehood, improbity, prevarication, perfidy, untruth. But nothing cuts through such rhetorical claptrap like that little three-letter word “lie.”
Thus begins the fast and furious descent of President Obama. Almost exactly 40 years to the day after burglars slipped into the Watergate complex, setting off a coverup that toppled a president, Mr. Obama on Thursday invoked executive privilege to shield documents about his administration’s shockingly inept “gunwalking” program known as Fast and Furious.
That same day, the lies poured forth in the White House briefing room, delivered by the president’s chief spokesman.
“What I can tell you is that there is nothing in these documents that pertains to the Fast and Furious operation,” Jay Carney said, asserting that “every document related to the Fast and Furious operation has long since been provided to congressional investigators.”
“Hogwash,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Through my investigation, I know there are reams of documents related to the ‘operation itself’ that the Justice Department has refused to turn over to Congress.”
While the White House claims the 7,600 documents turned over to Congress are all that relate to the disastrous program, reports say the Justice Department has turned over upwards of 80,000 documents to its own inspector general. Republicans claim at least 1,300 of those deal directly with Fast and Furious.
The thin-skinned Mr. Carney, petty and combative throughout the briefing, sought to dismiss the congressional probe, which last week resulted in a House panel voting to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress, as nothing more than a partisan political “fishing expedition.” Moreover, the president’s spokesman said Fast and Furious was an “operation” that “originated in a field office during the previous administration.”
That, too, is a flat-out lie and Mr. Carney knows it. There was a program during the George W. Bush administration that did involve guns and Mexico, but there the similarities end.
In the Bush operation known as Wide Receiver several hundred guns were allowed to “walk” across the border. But using “controlled delivery,” as well as miniature GPS devices within the guns, agents tracked the weapons throughout. The Mexican government was kept fully informed of the program, and Mexican police there took over the surveillance once the guns crossed the border.
But the program, which began in early 2006, ran into problems. When agents “lost” several dozen either through malfunctioning GPS devices or tampering Bush administration officials aborted the operation in late 2007.
Thus, also a lie when Mr. Carney said Operation Wide Receiver “was generated in the field during the previous administration that, when it was discovered by the attorney general, when he became aware of it, he ended it in this administration.” The program ended more than a year before Mr. Obama took office.
In fact, it was the federal government’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that, after discussion with top Justice Department officials, created its own program in November 2009, nine months after Mr. Obama took office.
But Fast and Furious used “uncontrolled delivery” gun smugglers were allowed to buy more than 2,000 high-powered weapons and simply walk them across the border. Because Mexican officials had no idea about the program, tracking the weapons simply stopped after they were purchased agents were ordered not to intercede, but instead allow the weapons to disappear.
The absurdly flawed program ceased in January 2011, just a month after U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was fatally shot by an AK-47 rifle traced to Fast and Furious.
Of course, Mr. Carney, a skilled prevaricator, sought to conflate the terms “operation” and “tactic,” thus concluding that the Bush-era “tactic” merely continued with Operation Fast and Furious “operation.” But the two programs, as just made clear, were nothing alike.
The entire F&F scandal has revolved around lies. In February 2011, a top Justice Department official told Congress that the department did not allow guns to be “walked” into Mexico. The department retracted that letter nine months later, with Mr. Holder absurdly declaring, “Nobody at the Justice Department has lied.”
Just last week, the department retracted a second statement, saying Mr. Holder “inadvertently” claimed during a Senate committee that Bush-era Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey had been briefed about Operation Wide Receiver. He hadn’t been.
But Mr. Carney dismissed the entire matter.
“The public, by and large, is not particularly aware of this matter,” he said at one point, implying there is little interest in the scandal. “And I think it is worth checking in with the American people as to whether they think that is worth the effort,” he said later.
On the other hand, Mr. Obama, in his weekly rant about Congress not approving everything he wants, declared: “We answer to the American people, and they are demanding action.”
Indeed, they are.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.