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Jackson: Darrell Issa's fake drug war

Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.)

Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) Photo Credit: Bloomberg News, 2011

There is a real drug war being waged on our border with Mexico. Drug cartels are clashing, U.S. agents on this side are struggling to keep the violence out of America, often without success, and the innocent are dying.

There is also a fake drug war being waged by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa has been running a search-and-destroy mission not against the drug cartels, but against our own attorney general. Instead of prosecuting criminals, he now is pushing for a House vote on holding Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for not acceding to his fishing expedition. This unprecedented maneuver could lead to a constitutional crisis.

The real drug war is a clear and present danger. Between 2006 and February of 2011, more than 37,000 have died in Mexico's drug-related violence. Over one-fourth of the murders took place close to the U.S. border. And the violence has spilled over, with U.S. agents and citizens part of the death toll.

Rep. Issa's fake drug war is not investigating the war raging on our borders. Rather, his offensive is targeted at harassing the U.S. attorney general and winning political points against the president in the 2012 presidential election season.

At issue is a misguided drug- and gun-enforcement program that began in the Bush years as "Operation Wide Receiver." Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives cooked up a plan to sell guns to presumed criminals, allow those same guns to "walk" across the border so they could be tracked when used in crimes and, ultimately, lead to the arrests of supposed of higher-ups in the Mexican drug cartels.

Not surprisingly, many of the guns disappeared -- as discovered by the Holder-run Department of Justice in 2009. This ill-conceived program was continued under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Holder, renamed "Fast and Furious" and remained under the radar until a few of the lost guns resurfaced near the scene of the murder of ATF Agent Brian Terry in a drug shootout in Arizona.

Holder immediately ended the program, dismissed or transferred the officials responsible, and dispatched an inspector general to investigate how and why this "gun walking" operation was done. Although this program began under Michael Mukasey, George W. Bush's attorney general, Holder took responsibility for it and apologized to Terry's parents.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee might want to take a good look at the drug war, the flow of guns to Mexico and the flow of drugs from Mexico to the United States. Issa might even want to investigate the roots of the Fast and Furious program.

But he has not.

Instead, Issa has decided to go after Eric Holder in the hope of getting Barack Obama. He has launched a fishing expedition to discover email related neither to Operation Wide Receiver nor Fast and Furious; rather, his focus has been on the attorney general's reaction to Terry's death.

Make no mistake, Terry's family deserves answers about the death of their loved one. As does the family of ICE Agent Jaime Zapata, another public servant caught in the dragnet of this unfortunate policy. And as do the families of the thousands of Mexicans who have also lost their lives. All life is precious.

But somehow, the search for truth and justice for all has been lost in this political gamemanship.

Holder has been dragged before the committee nine times; 7,600 pages of documents have been sent to the committee. But Issa has continued to up the ante, requesting access to items that the DOJ says might interfere with ongoing investigations. The president has sought to protect these investigations and the integrity of our government by invoking executive privilege -- a maneuver employed by nearly every president for the past 40 years. Yet, Chairman Issa has foregone those considerations and has continued to ask for more.

Does he really want something else? Perhaps so. Indeed, for the first time in history, the House of Representatives will hold a vote which, if party lines are followed, will result in the U.S. attorney general being held in contempt of Congress.


Contempt of and for Congress is pretty widespread across the land, so Issa's maneuvers may have as little effect on Holder as Moody's Investors Service's downgrade of U.S. bonds has had on U.S. interest rates. But this partisan posturing will fuel the conspiratorial right, and turn off activist Democrats. This wastes precious weeks of the our government's time. And, worse still, it is spiritually debilitating for our country.

This isn't a joke. Holder has been at the vanguard of the president's progressive agenda. He is a leading opponent of a right-wing drive to suppress the vote in states across the union. He is at the forefront of Obama's announced policy of using prosecutorial discretion to protect the "Dream kids." He will lead the effort to forgo enforcement of the federal statute against same-sex marriages, effectively ceding the turf to the states. Harassing Holder into resigning or pushing to have him prosecuted for contempt are clearly partisan strategies designed to obstruct this mission.

In this election season, Republicans have abandoned all pretense of cooperation in a crisis. And so the real drug war on the Mexican border is being ignored, while Issa's fake drug war grabs the headlines. This may please some in our nation, but it is a disservice to all of America.

Rights advocate Rev. Jesse Jackson, a columnist for Tribune Media Services, can be reached by e-mail at