Pity lead House Republican investigator Rep. Darrell Issa of California. It is his misfortune that he isn't looking into matters about which the Obama administration can talk freely — namely, all its covert national security programs.
If Justice Department documents that Issa's committee seeks from Attorney General Eric Holder had been the subject of a top-secret meeting in the White House Situation Room, their contents already would have been splashed across the media. Issa could read the New York Times story and be done with it.
But the Holder documents are an entirely different matter. They relate to the bizarrely misconceived Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed guns purchased from U.S. shops to fall into the hands of Mexican drug gangs on the theory that ... well, it's not clear exactly what the theory was. Somehow, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives thought that letting 2,000 guns “walk” into the arsenals of bad actors with no means of tracking them would be a devastating blow against gun-trafficking.
The cone of silence has slammed shut on the latest batch of Fast and Furious documents subpoenaed by Issa. When it is a secret, high-tech program to disrupt Iran's nuclear program, administration officials are chatty and expansive; when it is documents that could further embarrass Holder, their rule is “loose lips sink ships.” President Barack Obama is making a dubious claim of executive privilege to protect documents that, if they are truly of no consequence, there's no reason to protect.
From the beginning, Holder's Justice Department hasn't been able to keep its story straight on Fast and Furious, although it's always insisted that top officials had no prior knowledge of it. In a February 2011 letter, it told Congress that the ATF made “every effort” to interdict the guns before they got into Mexico (wrong) and that it hadn't “'sanctioned' or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons” to suspicious people (false). The proximate cause of the current showdown is Issa's quest to see documents that might shed more light on who worked up and approved the misleading letter.