The Justice Department ran an operation code-named Fast and Furious. Ostensibly the purpose of this was to track the flow of guns from American gun dealers to Mexican drug gangs. The operation had a number of serious flaws. It instructed gun dealers to make obviously illegal sales - ones in which the gun dealer recognized that the guns were going to be resold to drug dealers (this is known as gun-walking). These sales would never have happened without the operation so any results from tracking them would be dubious. Regardless, they lost track of most of the guns, up to 2,000 of them. Then these guns started showing up at crime scenes. One US Boarder Control Agent and 200 Mexicans have been killed with these guns.
How could this have happened? Congress held hearings to try to determine what the goals of this operation were, who approved it, and how high knowledge of the operation went?
The Justice Department responded with a letter stating that no gun-walking had happened. This was later retracted.
The current dispute between Congress and the Justice is over the letter. They are demanding all documentation on how the letter was authorized and retracted. The Justice Department has not provided sufficient information on this so a Congressional sub-committee voted to hold Eric Holder, the Attorney General, in contempt of Congress.
Things got even messier when President Obama announced that this information was covered by executive privileged. Normally this would be reserved for communication between the president and the Attorney General which raises some interesting questions including how deeply the President was involved in this.
Conspiracy theorists worry that the operation was originally set up to deliver guns to Mexican gangs in order to justify new gun-control legislation. It was obvious from the beginning that the Justice Department was unable to track these guns so why was the operation allowed to go on for so long?
Apologists say that the Bush Administration ran a similar operation. This is incorrect. The Bush administration tried an operation that would track guns that had been fitted with RFID chips using helicopters. The operation was cancelled as soon as it was found that the tracking technology did not work as hoped.
Apologists also point out that much of the rhetoric has centered around the slain boarder patrol agent but the subpoenas have been for documents from after his murder. At this point the sub-committee is investigating the letter that claimed that no gun-walking happened.
The Obama Administration appears to be stalling on the investigation until after the election. That implies that people at a high level were involved. Forty years after Watergate, politicians still need to learn the lesson that it is not the crime, it is the cover-up that brings down an administration.