Eric Holder

Eric Garner’s death shows exactly what’s wrong with the American legal system


At first glance, it’s yet another example of a law enforcement officer being cleared of charges for what was quite obviously an unjustified and unnecessary civilian death. But the story of Eric Garner’s homicide exposes so much more of what ails our legal and criminal justice systems.

Garner’s heinous alleged crime that was so deserving of police action, violent arrest, and ultimately death was…selling loose cigarettes out of their original packaging. In the allegedly free market capitalist society of Staten Island, New York, America, this is a misdemeanor offense, for which Garner had several charges already pending at the time of his suffocating death.

In New York, cigarettes are taxed and regulated so highly that they can cost more than $12 per pack. This insane bureaucratic scheme has inevitably created the black market that Garner was participating in - selling cigarettes out of their packs, avoiding the confiscatory taxes altogether, and pocketing the pure profits. Garner was no angel, but he was an entrepreneur, and in Dr Martin Luther King, Jr’s view entirely justified in not following the oppressive New York cigarette laws:

Obstruction Junction, what’s your function?

Eric Holder's Obstruction

In 2009, U.S. officials discovered that Mexican cartels had become the leading gun-traffickers responsible for high levels of crime throughout the Southwest U.S.

On October 31, 2009, the Arizona Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), in cooperation with the Department of Justice (DOJ), launched a sting operation to help reduce cross-border drug and firearm trafficking by “purposely allowing licensed firearm dealers to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers.”  The operation was intended to track weapon purchases made by Mexican drug cartels to expose the location of high level leaders and ultimately lead to their arrests.

By June 2010, the case internally became known as “Operation Fast and Furious,” as ATF agents discovered numerous cartel leaders under investigation were operating out of a busy auto-repair store.  More than 1,608 firearms worth a total of $1 million were purchased by suspected cartel leaders, but unbeknownst to the U.S. government, 179 had been linked to Mexican crimes and 130 had been found at crime scenes in the U.S.

On December 14, 2011, while patrolling Peck Canyon in Santa Cruz County, Arizona, Border Patrol officer Brian Terry was shot and killed by Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, a high-level cartel leader who purchased a weapon linked to Operation Fast and Furious.  While the operation was officially terminated on January 25, 2011, Americans and government officials would soon discover that the problems surrounding the sting had only just begun.

Judge dismisses DOJ request end lawsuit over “Fast and Furious” documents

Attorney General Eric Holder might have a hard time keeping the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from browsing through the “Fast and Furious” documents now that a federal judge has rejected his request to dismiss the committee’s lawsuit.

The Justice Department had requested the U.S. District Court to dismiss the Committee’s lawsuit asking for access to the “Operation Fast and Furious” documents, which had been kept from Congress after President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege over the records.

The president’s assertion was timely provided, given its stalling of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s investigation into “Fast and Furious,” which ultimately prompted Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-CA) to question Obama’s reasoning behind the delay to assert privilege over the documents. The President’s assertion of privilege over the documents happened exactly eight months after they were subpoenaed.

According to the investigators looking into the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) undercover operation known as “Operation Fast and Furious,” as many as 2,000 weapons might have ended up in the hands of narcotraffickers. Multiple crime scenes were connected to some of the weapons that might have been brought across the Mexican border as a result of the undercover operation.

While the DOJ confirmed its officials had turned virtually all records concerning the operation, but a letter sent to Congress on February 4, 2011 shows certain inconsistencies that worried Congressional investigators.

Government Sucks, But At Least You Get Your Money’s Worth

The number of bizarre, outrageous, infuriating, and baffling stories flooding the news cycle over recent weeks is so surreal that one could be excused for thinking the online parody site, The Onion, had somehow taken over the mainstream media. The stories provide more compelling evidence as to why big government is dangerous to not only liberty, privacy, and constitutional rights, but to plain common sense. Some stories stoke fear about the rising tyranny of big government, as if they were ripped from the pages of George Orwell’s prophetic novel 1984, while others show a level of such confounding incompetence that one wonders why we ever feared such idiots seizing control of the reins of power.

The truth is somewhere in between. While it is clear that there are those within the upper echelons of government that have conspired to seize power and spy on their fellow citizens, it is also clear that the majority of the abuse inflicted by government on those it “serves” comes from the crushing weight of a federal bureaucracy that is fully entrenched with little fear of being fired; wielding power over their fiefdoms and their helpless subjects therein simply because they can. Here are just a handful of the stories we’ve heard of late, each one a testament as to why every American should fear the enormous and metastasizing power of government in our lives, and why we should all fight to take a chainsaw to the size of government, regardless of political philosophy or party affiliation:

Holder’s Drone Memo: More Questions Than Answers

In advance of the President’s counterterrorism speech today at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. – where it’s anticipated he will lay out new restrictions for America’s drone programs - Attorney General Eric Holder released a 5-page memo disclosing that, since 2009, America has assassinated four of its own citizens in “counterterrorism operations” - more specifically, via drone strike.

Unfortunately, the memo’s admissions create more questions than answers.

1) The memo asserts that targeting and killing of citizens can only happen outside the U.S., tacitly readdressing the concerns Senator Rand Paul addressed in his 13 hour filibuster. But the right to due process is not contingent on geography; like it or not, these rights extend to citizens overseas. The fundamental assertion in the memo is, as Spencer Ackerman points out, that “Holder defended killing Americans the administration believes to be members of al-Qaeda without due process, a constitutionally questionable proposition.”

Parsing AG Holder on Domestic Targeted Killing

Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

As I wrote on Thursday, I’m not really losing sleep over the prospect of domestic targeted killing, mostly because it seems as though it would be so manifestly politically radioactive even within the intelligence community that I doubt it could be done secretly, and would almost certainly provoke a constitutional crisis if it became public. That said, as Marcy Wheeler notes, if we look closely at the precise wording of Attorney General Eric Holder’s response to Sen. Rand Paul disavowing any such presidential prerogative, it’s actually phrased in a way that seems calculated to preserve a fair amount of wiggle room:

It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question. “Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.

Fast and Furious over Fast and Furious

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Operation Fast and Furious, which actually is not an effort to catch illegal drag racers.  Instead, it’s an operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) where it’s been alleged that BATFE agents let tons of firearms flow south of the border by people they knew to be buying for the Mexican drug cartels.  One of these guns was reportedly used to kill US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

The gun rights community, predictably, is up in arms (pun unintended) about it.  Some are going so far as to claim it is all part of an effort to push forward increased gun regulations here.  Yesterday, President Obama claimed executive priviledge regarding documents that Congress and subpenoaed.  They had ordered them eight months ago.

Now, first let me address the conspiracy theory regarding using Fast and Furious being a way to push forward regulations here.  I might have had something to do with that one.  Months ago, on a blog that is no longer up on the net, I wrote that if I were inclined towards conspiracy theories, I would believe such a thing.  After all, the use of American guns by drug cartels was cited by both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as reasons why we needed tougher gun regulations in the US.  This was while Fast and Furious was going on and sending a proverbial buttload of guns down to Mexico…guns that BATFE knew about and did nothing to prevent.

Of course, a report from CBS News from December, 2011 looks like I might have been on to something:

Fast And Furious: Isn’t the ATF just the Government’s Appendix?

Throughout this Fast & Furious mess, nearly everyone has paid attention to just Darrell Issa and Eric Holder squaring off in a Congress committee room. But there’s another thing that should be focused on, that being the agency at the heart of this disgrace. But I surely cannot have been the only person to ask this question:

Why do we even have ATF around anymore?

Well, maybe I have. Bear with me as I try to answer it.

Let’s read their mission statement:

A unique law enforcement agency in the United States Department of Justice that protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products. We partner with communities, industries, law enforcement, and public safety agencies to safeguard the public we serve through information sharing, training, research, and use of technology.

A “unique” agency? How can unique can that be?

  • “protects our communities from violent criminals” – Doesn’t every law enforcement agency do that?

  • “criminal organizations” – Sounds more like an FBI job or something for the gang squad of a local PD

  • “the illegal use and trafficking of firearms” – Okay, I can sorta see this one

  • “the illegal use and storage of explosives” – This one too, sort of, but I would think that other agencies could also handle explosions quite readily

  • “acts of arson and bombings” – Two words: fire department. Okay, four more: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Eric Holder and Operation Gunrunner

Operation Gunrunner, also known as Operation Fast & Furious, has been a bit of an embarrassment to the BATFE to say the least.  The operation, which knowingly permitted illegal straw purchases to go through, knowing that the guns would be send south of the boarder to Mexican drug gangs, hasn’t gone as sunny as planners had hoped.  Now, the spotlight in turning onto Attorney General Eric Holder and his Justice Department.

From a New York Post article on the whole mess:

The ATF’s acting director, Kenneth Melson, has been singing like a canary to congressional investigators as he pushes back against administration pressure for him to resign and take the fall for something that, at the very least, had to include the US Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and possibly the Homeland Security Department.

In a letter to Holder released yesterday, Rep. Daryl Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley accused the Justice Department of blocking their investigation into the burgeoning scandal (which has resulted in the deaths of at least two American agents and countless Mexican civilians), muzzling the ATF and involving other federal agencies, including the FBI and the DEA, in funding the crackpot scheme.

“The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons, but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities,” they wrote.

Well…bye: Eric Holder reportedly leaving the Obama administration

There’s some big news, though not entirely unsurprising news developing this morning. The Associated Press is reporting that Attorney General Eric Holder will announce his resignation today and leave Obama administration once his successor has been confirmed by the Senate:

Two sources familiar with the decision tell NPR that Holder, 63, intends to leave the Justice Department as soon as his successor is confirmed, a process that could run through 2014 and even into next year. A former U.S. government official says Holder has been increasingly “adamant” about his desire to leave soon for fear he otherwise could be locked in to stay for much of the rest of President Obama’s second term.

Holder already is one of the longest serving members of the Obama cabinet and ranks as the fourth longest tenured AG in history. Hundreds of employees waited in lines, stacked three rows deep, for his return in early February 2009 to the Justice Department, where he previously worked as a young corruption prosecutor and as deputy attorney general — the second in command — during the Clinton administration.

It had been rumored for some time that Holder, who has earned the ire of congressional Republicans over Operation Fast and Furious and other issues, wanted out of the administration. Holder telegraphed this to The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Tobin back in February, saying that he planned to stick around “well into” 2014. The Justice Department, however, denied that the Attorney General indicated he would resign.

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