- - Monday, June 25, 2012

In 1973, I chose Watergate for a grade-school news-clipping project. In 2012, a grade-school student choosing Fast and Furious would have hit a similar mother lode with a bulging notebook of clippings for what will soon have its very own “gate” moniker.

The parallels are eerie. On June 20 - almost 40 years to the day of the Watergate break-in June 17, 1972, that prompted a massive cover-up - the White House asserted executive privilege in the congressional investigation into what is known as Operation Fast and Furious.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. refuses to release documents sought by Rep. Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Mr. Issa is probing the gun-trafficking operation in which U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed when it backfired. Because of Mr. Holder’s recalcitrance, the House was poised to schedule a vote on holding him in contempt of Congress.

The White House’s claim of executive privilege is meant to render Mr. Holder bulletproof. But there’s a major disconnect here. As Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, said, “How can the president exert executive privilege over documents he’s supposedly never seen?”

Mr. Issa agreed and forged ahead with a contempt vote, which on the same day passed his committee along party lines.

All the elements of a constitutional crisis are in place. It’s definitely time to dust off a copy of “All the President’s Men.” Then, the question was: What is the White House hiding? The same question is being asked today.

Michigan Republican senatorial candidate Clark Durant presciently said, “President Barack Obama’s executive privilege assertion, in spite of once remarking his would be ‘the most transparent administration ever,’ means that the administration was involved or had knowledge” of the gunrunning operation run amok. Mr. Durant inferred that Mr. Obama had evidently seen documents regarding Fast and Furious.

At the risk of oversimplifying, this was an operation in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives coaxed gun dealers to sell weapons to buyers for Mexican criminal syndicates in an attempt to ensnare the cartels. Sound stupid? It was - colossally so.

Of course, the bureau was not acting on its own. It was purportedly the idea of someone higher up, which is what Mr. Issa is trying to ascertain. The probe is starting to hurt. In fact, the administration doesn’t like it one bit and is now refusing to cooperate. So what if Terry is dead? The investigation has gotten just too painful.

It prompts you to think there must be some really bad secrets buried within the administration. The biggest question, of course, is what the motive was for Operation Fast and Furious. It always comes down to motive.

Why did some higher-up want to put the big, bad gun dealers in such an unseemly position, risking reputation and livelihood on something as stupid as selling guns to criminals?

It’s clear the congressional probe isn’t going away. If we learned anything from Watergate, it’s “the cover-up is always worse than the crime.” To put it in other terms, if Team Obama doesn’t cooperate in rooting out the cancer within its ranks, the health of the nation’s political process is likely to worsen.

Forty years ago, the media was hot on the scent of Watergate. Which begs the question: Where are competent investigative journalists in 2012 who will sniff out the clues to solving FastFuriousgate?

Mary Claire Kendall is a Washington-based journalist and screenwriter.

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