Sadly, scandals have become all too common in American public life. Today a significant scandal is brewing within the Obama administration. What is known at this point is that the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives facilitated the delivery of thousands of high powered firearms to Mexican drug cartels. The scandal has been brewing since January and at this point we know that at least two US Federal Agents have been killed with these weapons, as well as about 200 Mexican nationals, both police and civilians. It has been front page news in Mexico since the beginning of the year and was the primary reason that Mexico demanded the recall and replacement of the US ambassador. Mexico has demanded the extradition of those responsible for trial in Mexican courts. Although most of the media has intentionally ignored this story, it is big enough to bring down a president – and if Obama does not move quickly, it will do just that.
Ironically, both the best and the worst ways of handling a scandal like this have been modeled by Republican presidents.
The worst way of handling a scandal that threatens to remove you from office was modeled by President Nixon in the Watergate scandal. By obstructing, lying, delaying and generally trying prevent the truth from coming out – Nixon committed felonies and turned a third rate burglary of the oppositions offices into a career ending move. Nixon stubbornly stalled until a bill of impeachment was voted out of committee and a delegation of Republican Senators lead by Barry Goldwater told him it was all over and if he did not resign, he was going to be impeached and convicted. It is widely believed that Goldwater told Nixon that if he stood trial before the Senate, he would vote to convict.
About 15 years later, President Reagan faced a scandal that could have, if handled poorly, have resulted in his removal from office: The Iran – Contra Affair. This involved the direct breaking of US law by using funds earned from the illegal sale of US weapons to Iran to fund the Contra Rebels fighting the Marxist government then in power in Nicaragua (a second violation of US law). In contrast to Nixon, Reagan moved quickly to take responsibility as president, to fire those obviously involved and to appoint a commission composed of prominent politicians of both major parties to investigate. Congress also investigated and several people were convicted of federal crimes.
Sadly, it appears that President Obama is following Nixon’s example of cover up and obstruction. House and Senate investigators have traced the scandal as high as the number two man at the Justice Department – and while both President Obama and AG Eric Holder have denied any knowledge or involvement there is ample evidence of a cover up. It has been almost six months since we first heard about the “Inspector General’s investigation”, yet there have been no firings and no arrests. That is except for the BATFE’s firing of one of the whistleblowers who brought the scandal to light. In response to lawful congressional subpoenas, DOJ sent documents with every page blacked out. The only problem for the administration is that congress already has the documents – they have been supplied by the whistle blowing agents. The latest move in the cover up was the promotion of two of the BATFE officials responsible for the operation to prominent jobs in Washington DC.
With the investigation closing in on the highest levels of the administration, President Obama needs to think about what happened to the last president who decided to cover everything up. Congressional investigators are being aided by agents within BATFE who take their oath to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States” very seriously. He would also do well to remember that no one died in Watergate. Time is running for our president to come clean, fire some people and take responsibility. If he stays on the present course there is a very good chance that he will not politically survive to run in 2012.