"Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before." -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in November, 2008.
It is early March, 2009. Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States had walked into a buzzsaw a couple of weeks before when on 25 February, according to CBS News:
Attorney General Eric Holder was busy announcing the capture of more than 50 alleged members of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel yesterday when he unwittingly stepped into a larger debate about gun control.
Responding to a reporter's question on weapons' regulations, Holder said, "Well, as President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons. I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum."
Holder refused to speculate when legislation would move forward. "There are obviously a number of things that are -- that have been taking up a substantial amount of [Obama's] time, and so, I'm not sure exactly what the sequencing will be," he said.
Almost immediately, the Blue Dog Democrats went spastic, burning up the phone lines to the White House. Rahm Emanuel was reported to be "livid" at the faux pas. The long-time supporter of the Brady Bunch, citizen disarmament and specifically the ban on semi-automatic rifles of military utility (the misnamed "Assault Weapons Ban"), was not upset about the goal, just the impolitic nature of the public announcement.
CBS reported in the same story that even pro-citizen disarmament advocate Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House, recoiled:
. . . "I think there are a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill cringing at Eric Holder's comments right now," Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Association, told ABC News.
Lending credence to LaPierre's claims, The Hill reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to Holder's remarks during her weekly press conference by stating, "On that score, I think we need to enforce the laws we have right now. I think it's clear the Bush administration didn't do that."
Pelosi's comments reflect the fact that Democrats may not now want a fight over gun regulations with so many other matters on the president's agenda.
And yet. . .
Note that the principal objection is merely a matter of timing and politics. It is not that the administration and party leadership didn't WANT another AWB and the absolute federal takeover of all private transfers, they did. But the politics weren't right and didn't look like they'd be right until at least after the 2010 mid-terms and not even, perhaps, until after Obama's reelection in 2012 (which they took as given as long as the toxic issue of firearms control for the law-abiding wasn't mentioned).
But what was not politically possible in early March . . . could it be MADE possible by events? My sources now tell me that they have learned that this question was crystallized in a series of "tightly-held" meetings in the immediate aftermath of the Holder gaffe. They also say that Rahm Emanuel was "a key player."
By early April, Michael Isikof was reporting Obama Gets Gun-Shy: Despite a recent spate of killings, the president and fellow Democrats choose not to wage war on assault weapons.
Isikoff's article bemoaned the fact that anti-Semite and disgraced Marine Richard Poplawski had killed three Pittsburgh police officers without changing the political balance on more firearms restrictions for the law abiding:
There was a time when a creep like Poplawski would have become a potent symbol in the debate over gun control. He wasn't your run-of-the-mill malcontent. A white supremacist, he frequented the chat rooms of racist Web sites, where he posted screeds about a "Zionist occupation" bringing the country to economic ruin. But Keith Savage, manager of the Braverman Arms Co., where Poplawski got many of his guns (but not the AK-47, Savage claims), says nothing seemed amiss when he filled out Form 4473—the standard questionnaire for federally required background checks. The gun-shop staff had no way of knowing, for instance, about Poplawski's January 2005 discharge from the Marines for what Lt. Josh Diddams, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman, tells NEWSWEEK was a "psychological disorder" (he had assaulted his drill sergeant during basic training, says Poplawski's mother). They probably also didn't know that Poplawski's former girlfriend had gotten a restraining order against him, later in 2005, after he grabbed her by the hair and threatened to kill her.
In the past, national political leaders might have raised troubling questions about how such an unstable character could obtain easy access to high-powered weapons. They might have been even more motivated given that Poplawski's cop-killing spree was part of a near epidemic of mass homicides that have left 58 people dead over the past month. Or given that Mexico's insanely violent drug cartels are arming themselves with high-powered assault weapons purchased at U.S. gun stores and later smuggled south of the border. Yet many past champions of stricter gun-control measures are silent. These include top Obama White House officials who have squelched any talk within the administration about pushing further gun-control measures."It's weird," says Peter Hamm, the communications director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "When you see people like [Attorney General] Eric Holder or Hillary Clinton or [White House chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel become muted on this issue, you feel like you want to call up a friend and say, 'What's up?' "
After working so hard to get their guy elected in the first place, one can almost sympathize with the Brady bunch. But they did not know what was happening behind the scenes.
But Obama and top White House aides have all but abandoned the issue. Emanuel helped orchestrate passage of the original assault-weapons ban when he worked in the Clinton White House. Now he and other White House strategists have decided they can't afford to tangle with the National Rifle Association at a time when they're pushing other priorities, like economic renewal and health-care reform, say congressional officials who have raised the matter. (According to his office, Emanuel couldn't be reached for comment because he was observing the Passover holiday.) A White House official, who asked not to be identified discussing internal strategy, says, "There isn't support in Congress for such a ban at this time."
At this time. So lurid spree killings were understood not be sufficient to the need to convince Americans of the necessity of more gun control. "At this time."
Isikoff's story revisited the Holder error:
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat, is one of those who are impatient with their party's silence. . . But when she pressed Obama transition officials to take up the issue, they were clear about their priorities: "They told me that's not for now, that's for later."
The word didn't get through to everyone in the administration, resulting in mixed messages—and blowback from the NRA. In February, Holder called for restoring the federal ban on assault guns to help curb the flow of weapons to the Mexican cartels. As soon as he made the call, however, the NRA launched a fierce lobbying campaign—and 65 House Democrats signed a letter vowing to resist any gun-control measures. In the Senate, Montana Democrats Max Baucus and Jon Tester sent their own warning. "Senators to Attorney General Holder: Stay Away From Our Guns," read the press release.
Within days, White House aides instructed Justice officials to stop talking about the assault-weapons issue, according to congressional and administration officials who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities. (A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.) Last week, in an interview with Katie Couric, Holder skirted questions about reinstating the assault-weapons ban and also about a gaping loophole that permits people to purchase arms at gun shows without background checks. "I understand the Second Amendment. I respect the Second Amendment," said Holder, after denying that he had been instructed to "back off" the gun-control measures.
The new Democratic squishiness on guns is all about politics. Democratic leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are determined to protect the seats of "blue dogs" from rural districts who are essential to preserving the party's majority in the House. "The Democratic Party understands this is a losing issue … It's a dead loser," says Democratic Rep. Dan Boren, of Muskogee, Okla. "Its one of the reasons they lost the Congress in 1994 and Al Gore was not elected president in 2000."
By November, as reported by The Hill: "Holder dials back his commitment to pushing ban on assault weapons."
Attorney General Eric Holder is retreating on his commitment to pursue a controversial gun-control measure.
Holder’s statements, recently delivered to senators in writing, clearly indicate the Obama administration is in no rush to reinstate the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
In response to written questions from Senate Judiciary Committee members, Holder adopted a much different tone on the ban than he did in February, when he said, “As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.”
That comment attracted many headlines, but the nation’s chief law enforcement officer is now downplaying his earlier remarks.
Noting his February statements, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) asked Holder, “Is it still your intent to seek a reinstitution of the ‘assault weapons’ ban?”
Holder stressed that he wasn’t breaking new ground earlier this year.
His response to a reporter in February, Holder claims, is not akin to “call[ing] for a new assault weapons ban, but rather restating the previously expressed campaign position on this issue.”
Regarding the administration’s next step, Holder stated, "The department is currently reviewing existing gun laws to determine how best to combat gun violence and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others prohibited from possessing them."
Holder's response to Coburn is the latest in a series of mixed messages from Obama and his team after the president vowed during his campaign that he would seek to reinstate the ban.
The White House quickly distanced itself from Holder's comments in February, but the president said during a press conference in Mexico City in April that he has "not backed off at all from my belief that the assault weapons ban makes sense."
Obama acknowledged at the press conference that he was not "under any illusions that reinstating that ban would be easy."
A tactical retreat? Or simply waiting the next "crisis opportunity"? Both?
Two quotes that stand out: Holder in November saying "The department is currently reviewing existing gun laws to determine how best to combat gun violence and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others prohibited from possessing them."
And, in April (Obama had) "not backed off at all from my belief that the assault weapons ban makes sense."
Again, in April: "Not backed off."
In November: "The department is currently reviewing existing gun laws."
My sources tell me that at some point along this time, William "Gunwalker Bill" Newell's 2008 Tucson "pilot project" of walking guns within the US came to the attention of Holder and then Emanuel.
From Senator Grassley's letter dated 9 February:
The dealer who sold the weapons allegedly recovered at the scene of Agent Terry’s death met with both ATF representatives and Assistant U.S. Attorneys as early as December 17, 2009 to “discuss his role as [a Federal Firearms Licensee] FFL during this investigation.”2 On January 9, 2010, Jaime Avila bought three more firearms at the same Glendale, Arizona gun dealer and his purchase was entered into an ATF database two days later.3 By January 13, ATF added Avila to a suspect person database for the investigation.4 On January 14, ATF entered the firearms Avila purchased five days earlier into the National Tracing Center’s Suspect Gun Database.5
On January 16, 2010, Avila bought three AK-47 variant, Romanian WASR-10 assault rifles from the same dealer with the serial numbers 1983AH3977, 1979IS1530, and 1971CZ3775.6 ATF entered these weapons into the National Tracing Center’s Suspect Gun Database three days later.7 Over the next several months, ATF continued to track Avila’s multiple firearms purchases in near real-time, including two purchases of .50 caliber rifles in June 2010.8
After the shooting of CBP Agent Terry, law enforcement officials recovered from the scene two assault rifles.9 On December 16, 2010, ATF’s trace results confirmed that serial numbers 1983AH3977 and 1971CZ3755 match two of the three rifles purchased by Avila and tracked by the ATF nearly a year earlier.
Reviewing policy: November 2009.
Recruitment of the FFL holder to begin active Gunwalker operations: 17 December 2009.
Remember one of my sources' analysis previously reported:
Let me tell you what this was, and where it came from, based on a conversation I had with a long-time, well-informed veteran of American government intelligence operations the other day.
"Do you think," he asked me, "that this happened accidentally in a vacuum?" Meaning that one day "Gunwalker Bill" Newell, Phoenix SAC, just got a wild hair and decided to invent his own foreign policy. "Things like this happen because of meetings. People sit in meetings and they decide what they want to happen. And then they take decisions, make policy and implement that policy to achieve those ends." He added, "That's why State is so nervous. They signed off on this. In a meeting."
Gunrunner, I pointed out to him, predated the Obama administration. "Yes, but 'walking guns' didn't." I told him it seemed to me that given the dates on the documents that the meetings crafting this policy must have taken place sometime in mid-2009. "And who took power in January, 2009?" he replied.
He continued, summing up this way. The gun issue was known to be radioactive. Every time the Democrats embraced it they got killed at the polls the next election cycle. What was needed, in Rahm Emanuel's parlance, was a good crisis to exploit, something to change the paradigm. The gun confiscationists had always danced in the blood (my term, not his) of every mass shooting and gotten nowhere, to their chagrin and frustration. What was needed was a game changer. Something that fit the meme of "we've got to tighten up on American gunowners, gun stores and gun shows because they are feeding the slaughter." Mexico was perfect. The ATF controlled the reporting of the statistics, the headlines were lurid and if the rest of us gunnies knew that you don't get automatic weapons, hand grenades and RPGs from gun shows and gun stores, most of the American people were too ignorant of the issue to care about the distinction. But the fact was, as the IG report and other sources concluded, the amount of weapons from those legitimate American sources did not meet the allegation. More importantly the statistics didn't meet the policy need. So, how to "fix" that? Project Gunwalker. If there weren't enough semi-auto "assault rifles" in Mexico, the ATF could fix that. And the murders would follow, justifying the policy change of cracking down on "assault rifles," gun shows and the like.
"So," I said, "you're saying that this was a deliberate attempt by policymakers at the highest levels of the Obama administration to subvert the Second Amendment and further diminish the free exercise of firearm rights of honest citizens?"
"You got it. Sucks, huh?" He laughed bitterly.
I thought of Zed in "Men in Black."
He added, "Of course the meeting transcripts won't reflect the truth so plainly, but then neither did the Wannsee Conference. These bastards always talk in riddles about what they're really after. Watch what they do, not what they say."
My sources indicate that between March and December of 2009, there were a number of meetings, including Eric Holder, Rahm Emanuel and various subordinates. And the bloody-minded policy developed at those meetings proceeded along very nicely, thank you, until the death of Brian Terry, and would have after that, except for some brave ATF whistleblowers.
"A deliberate attempt by policymakers at the highest levels of the Obama administration to subvert the Second Amendment and further diminish the free exercise of firearm rights of honest citizens."
Frustrated by the limitations of politics, the Obama administration decided to change the paradigm. And it worked. Oh, boy, did it work. But in the end, perhaps not the way they intended -- thanks entirely to the whistleblowers.
One of the first people Darrell Issa should call to his hearings is Rahm Emanuel. Provided, of course, that the failed state of Chicago still recognizes extradition to the United States.