Back in 2007, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (R) stood before the Senate Judiciary Committee and testified about two headlining controversies: President George W. Bush’s (R) firing of seven U.S. attorneys and the administration’s domestic wiretap programs. In reality the attorney firings were a complete non-issue (since presidents can fire their appointees for any reason they wish), and the wiretap programs were not particularly noteworthy. The hearings were little more than an opposition gimmick designed to score cheap political points, but that’s just par for the course in Washington.
It soon became clear that elements of Gonzales’s testimony did not align with information in White House documents, and other administration officials had provided contradictory testimony. Gonzales had mislead congressional investigators. The chief law enforcement officer of the United States, the head of the Department of Justice, had committed perjury. Regardless of how baseless or trumped-up the controversies may have been that brought Gonzales to Capitol Hill in the first place, once he was there he was required to tell the truth. His only other option was to refuse to answer questions by citing his Fifth Amendment protections or executive privilege. Lying under oath was inexcusable.
At the time, I called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Gonzales’s testimony and, if he had indeed lied, bring appropriate charges against him. I don’t care if somebody is Republican, Democrat, conservative, or liberal; criminals don’t belong in high office. Gonzales resigned soon thereafter, and he was never prosecuted for what he did.
Current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (D) has found himself on Capitol Hill testifying before a congressional committee about a different kind of controversy. Between 2006 and 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) ran a series of gunrunning operations that illegally sold guns to Mexican drug cartels. The intent was to track the firearms and break up the cartels, but it didn’t work out that way. U.S. government-supplied firearms ended up in the hands of vicious criminals who used them to commit murders in both Mexico and the United States, including the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Although this is obviously a much more serious scandal than those that brought Gonzales to the Capitol, the hearings were still primarily an opposition gimmick to score cheap political points. The gunrunning began at BATFE during the Bush administration, although it was greatly accelerated under President Barack Obama’s (D) tenure (as it transitioned from ‘Operation Wide Receiver’ to ‘Operation Fast and Furious’). It is unlikely that either Obama or Holder (or their predecessors) were at all responsible for BATFE’s misguided operations, which were happening much further down the bureaucratic hierarchy. But like Gonzales, Holder was required to tell the truth, plead the Fifth, or assert executive privilege. Lying under oath was not an option.
And like Gonzales, Holder chose instead to take his chances. He lied about when he found out about the gunwalking operations, he stonewalled and refused to turn over department documents, and he wrongfully accused his predecessor—Attorney General Michael Mukasey (R), who Bush appointed after Gonzales’s resignation—of having been briefed on the gunwalking program. And now, after months of misrepresentations and backpedaling and self-contradiction from Holder, Obama himself has stepped in—to claim executive privilege over some documents related to the scandal and limit his administration’s cooperation with the congressional investigation. So how does that square with Obama’s promise of a?
In a straight party-line vote, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has recommended that Holder be cited for contempt of Congress. This is a start, but it is woefully insufficient. I call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Holder’s testimony to Congress and, if appropriate, bring charges against him for perjury and obstruction of justice. I also call on Holder to resign immediately.
Corruption and dishonesty have no place in our government, no matter which party is in power. Perjury is a serious crime, and perjurers don’t belong in high office. Moral consistency demands that everybody who condemned Gonzales in 2007 condemn Holder today. The two men may have different party affiliations, but they both committed the same crime, and they have both brought dishonor to the office of U.S. attorney general.