Posts Tagged ‘Fast and Furious’

UPDATE: House votes to hold Holder in contempt over ‘Fast and Furious’

Fast and Furious Contempt Vote

UPDATE: 4:44 p.m. ET: The House has voted to hold Eric Holder in contempt, 255-67.

The House Committee for Government Oversight and Reform will proceed today with the contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder. At this point, however, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) said he is not accusing theWhite House or Holder for knowing about the Fast and Furious operation. Rather, the Committee is looking for documents to reveal why the Department of Justice initially denied and later admitted to knowledge of the scandal.

“When did they know we were lied to and what did they do about it?”  Issa asked, according to CBS News.

The Fast and Furious operation refers to a 2009 gun-walking tactic resulting in more than 2000 guns to be walked across the Arizona/Mexico border in an attempt to trace the guns to suspected gun smugglers. The operation ultimately failed and resulted in unaccounted weapons and the death of border agent Brian Terry.

The National Rifle Association has given its support to the contempt proceedings and say today’s vote will influence which candidates they will back in the future. This move by the NRA may influence not only House Republicans but pro-gun House Democrats as well.

Whistleblower Involved in Gunwalking

Adding to the mess surrounding the contempt proceedings is the integrity of a key whistleblower, John Dodson, an ATF agent who has been implicated in a separate but concurrent gunwalking operation.  Dodson and his former supervisor, Dave Voth, have both claimed to have been against what has been termed the “Fernandez case,” referred to by Darrell Issa on ABC’s “This Week.”  Fernandez involves six guns that  Dodson purchased and delivered to gun-smuggling suspect Isaias Fernandez on June 1, 2010, according to Fox.  However, there is some dispute on whether Dodson instigated the transfer of guns or was simply following Voth’s orders.

An investigative report by Fortune claims the entire Fast and Furious episode is simply politics run out of control. In defense of Voth, Fortune says the ATF agents were legally limited by what they could do to curb the flow of guns. Arizona statute allows for easy purchase and resale of guns, and ATF had been in hot water for some of its earlier efforts at gun interception and agents’ hands were tied. In spite of ATF’s of gun walking, they unable to convince federal prosecutors to pursue the matter, Fortune said. Prosecutors said they needed more evidence than what had already been put forth.  In order to collect such evidence, the ATF unsuccessfully attempted a wiretap operation and subsequently, the gun smuggling continued.  The fallout was agent Brian Terry’s death and Dodson’s claim that Voth had pursued Fast and Furious despite his and others’ disapproval. Dodson also referred to an email in which Voth cites a “schism” between those who supported walking the guns and those who did not.  However, Voth claims Dodson and others reported events out of context as an attempt at retribution, and the schism referred to wire tapping, not gunwalking. *Update, 6/29/2012: The schism in the email actually referred to disputes among coworkers about the wiretap shift scheduling. Dodson was opposed to working weekends, and agents pulled in to help from other projects did not want to work the less desirable shifts.  Fortune further reported that Dodson walked the guns and then left on vacation without finalizing the operation or successfully tracking the guns.

Politically motivated? Does it matter?

Each side is decrying the political motivations of the other. Republicans cite an anti-gun agenda behind the gunwalking while Democrats see an attempt to embarrass the president during an election year. While there is likely some political motivation on both sides, my main question is whether the public has a right to the information Issa is requesting. Or is Obama’s use of executive privilege — the first in his administration — warranted in interest of preserving the integrity of an ongoing investigation and internal deliberations?

More info:

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to It may be featured in a future post.


Contempt case moves forward for Attorney General Holder; Kentucky whistleblower gets victory

Update on Attorney General Eric Holder contempt:

The House Committee of Government Oversight and Reform voted 27 to 17  Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for failure to disclose documents related to the ‘Fast and Furious’ investigation.

Potential order of events:

  • If Holder does not produce the desired documents, the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform will proceed with a full-chamber vote next week.
  • The entire House would need to vote in favor of contempt
  • The matter falls in the lap of  the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who would need to determine whether to criminally indict Holder.

Look on this blog for additional updates on the case in the coming days and weeks.

Whistleblowing success:

A whistleblowing miner in Kentucky can have his job back , and is set to receive $30,000 in compensation.

Cumberland River Coal Company wrongfully discharged Charles Scott Howard in May 2011, said Administrative Law Judge Margaret A. Miller.  Judge Miller claimed Cumberland had been looking for ways to get rid of Howard after he told company officials about safety issues present in the mine in which he worked.

Howard was injured at his job in June 2010, and doctors cleared him to to return to work. However, one doctor who worked for the company disagreed with others, and Cumberland pulled the plug on Howard’s employment in May 2011. Judge Miller decided the company had ulterior motives and said Cumberland was  eager to get Howard — who has a history of whistleblowing — off the job.

“I find that the mine sought out and received the opinion they were seeking and immediately upon receipt of that single opinion, terminated Howard’s employment,” Miller wrote, according to CBS News.

This will mark Howard’s third court-enforced reinstatement to work.  The judge also ordered the company to pay a $30,000 fine for dismissing Howard.

Free Speech News Roundup:

  • Robots are taking over the world! Or at least some might suggest that will be our fate if government chose to recognize the free-speech rights of sites like Google, Amazon and Facebook.  Read an opinion on why this may be one step too far, and an opinion on why government legislation in this matter makes no difference.
  • A university can limit a student’s off-campus expression if it is not in concert with the professional standards of a student’s program, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled.  The case involved Amanda Tatro’s 2009 Facebook comments, in which she alluded to stabbing “a certain someone in the throat” and talked about getting to play with the cadaver on which she was working.   After learning of Tatro’s post,  the school put her on academic probation and gave her an ‘F’ in the related anatomy-laboratory class. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Tatro’s enrollment in a professional program made her subject to university regulation in her Facebook posts. Tatro was studying mortuary science at University of Minnesota.
  • Vietnam officials are attempting to restrict online speech by pushing a decree requiring people to use real names and information online. The decree also sets forth a requirement for Internet providers to use Vietnamese-based servers and locate their offices in the country, according to Article 19. If passed, these decrees would give the Vietnamese government an uncomfortable amount of power over online free speech, suppressing the voices of those who could be holding them accountable.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to It may be featured in a future post.


Rep. Darrell Issa moves forward with contempt vote against Eric Holder despite Obama’s intervention

The House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform will move forward with contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder, even after President Obama signed an executive order restricting access to documents in the botched Department of Justice “Fast and Furious” program, CNN reported.

In an attempt to possibly avoid the hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder met with Rep. Darrell Issa on June 19 to negotiate the release of additional relevant documents. After the  meeting, both parties continued to point fingers:  Holder’s camp claimed Issa refused the documents they offered, while Issa’s camp claimed Holder would not release the documents until the committee promised to cease pursuing the case.  Republicans took issue with the executive branch’s lack of transparency, while Rep. Elijah Cummings said Issa’s move was an attempt to embarrass the president. Cummings is ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform and attended the meeting between Holder and Issa.

“I’m just telling you, as a lawyer, I think that contempt is going far too far,” Cummings said in a CNN interview.

As a follow-up to the June 19 meeting, Holder sent a letter to President Obama requesting he exercise executive privilege over the release of the documents. Holder’s request was granted, and Deputy Attorney General James L. Cole sent a letter to Issa today informing him of the president’s decision.

“The documents responsive to the remaining subpoena items pertain to sensitive law enforcement activities, including ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions, or were generated by Department officials in the course of  responding to congressional investigations or media inquiries about this matter that are generally not appropriate for disclosure,” Cole said in the letter to Issa.

Despite this, Issa said he still plans to progress with holding Holder in contempt for failing to produce all the documents the House Oversight Committee requested.

Check out:


Attorney General Holder willing to compromise on Fast and Furious; secret service documents released

Holder – done  Holdin’ out?

“The department’s willingness to provide these materials is a serious, good-faith effort to bring this matter to an amicable resolution,”

Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has agreed to postpone a contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder, provided Holder discloses the additional documents relating to the failed gunwalking operation Fast and Furious.  Holder has expressed willingness to compromise and turn over documents showing how the government learned about specifics in the Fast and Furious operation. The rest of the documents, he said, were not within the Oversight Committee’s interest in the investigation.  Holder also offered to meet with  Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform by today to discuss the controversial withholding of documents in relation to the operation.

This is in the midst of the investigation into  Fast and Furious , where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives  intentionally let weapons purchased by traffickers  across the border to strengthen their case. The fallout of the case included the death of Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

“The department’s willingness to provide these materials is a serious, good-faith effort to bring this matter to an amicable resolution,” Holder said, according to the  New York Times. “We believe that this briefing, and the documents we are prepared to provide — which will include information you have requested regarding whistle-blowers — will fully address the remaining concerns identified in the recent letters to me from you and House leadership.”

This is in response to Issa’s June 16 letter in which he said he could compromise the June 20 contempt vote, but only if Holder submitted a “serious proposal,” Politico reports.

“Let me be clear – if the Department of Justice submits a serious proposal for how it intends to alter its refusal to produce critical documents subpoenaed by the Committee, I am ready and willing to meet to discuss your proposal,” Issa said to Holder in a June 13 letter.

Rumor has it: Two sources close — or formerly close — to Holder have come to Issa seeking protection as whistleblowers, according to Sipsey Street Irregulars‘ Mike Vanderbeogh and National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea ,  The Examiner reports. An anonymous source with knowledge of the gunwalker investigation likened whistleblowers’ information to “keys to the kingdom as far as Holder is concerned.”

Other open government news:

Update: The Senate Appropriations Committee told the Department of Labor to cooperate with media in finding a mutually-agreeable policy that would serve the needs of both parties, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Read more here.

Bonus near $500K  has some questioning lobbyist’s motives

Thomas MacKenzie,  a former Northrop Grumman lobbyist, received nearly $498,334 as a bonus in 2011 after leaving the company to work for the House Armed Services Committee, incidentally taking a near $400,000 paycut, according to the Project on Government Oversight.  Northrop Grumman is one of the largest weapons makers in the world and could stand to benefit by having someone on their side on the Committee, according to Lee Fang of the Republic Report.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to It may be featured in a future post.

Changing the story behind freedom of information through peer pressure

In an article on changing corporate culture, strategic adviser Peter Bregman suggests the power of peer pressure to affect far-reaching change within the culture of a business .  Bregman cites a study by Leann Lipps Birch that showed children’s preferences for foods they disliked increased when they saw their peers eating the same foods.  Using this as a launching pad, he suggests the best way to change the culture of a company is to do positive, story-worthy things, or showcase those who are making positive efforts, and change the stories being told. Once people hear positive stories about their agency, they are more likely to follow suit.

We live by stories. We tell them, repeat them, listen to them carefully, and act in accordance with them. – Peter Bregman

What does this have to do with freedom of information? A look through stories in recent media shows that some public bodies and government officials are still less than excited to cooperate with the public’s demand for greater transparency and access to information. For example,  the House Committee for Government Oversight and Reform recently to investigated questionable Department of Labor policies that would affect media outlets. Additionally, committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) questioned Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the  ‘Fast and Furious’ operation.  These show public bodies need to shift from secrecy to transparency, ideally sparking a change among requesters — from suspicion to cautious trust.

However, there are still those who work to further government transparency, effectively changing the nature of the stories being told. For instance:

  • Maurice Frankel, a freedom of information expert in the United Kingdom, is using the power of peer pressure to force change in his corner of the world. In a recent article, he offered The Netherlands’ punitive measures as an example of what can be done in instances of  freedom of information violations. Adding insult to injury, FOI violators may be subject to fines of 30 euros daily for late responses to FOI requests, to be paid directly to the requester. Fines can reach a maximum of 1260 euros. Frankel adds that The Netherlands FOI laws are currently under review, so the efficacy of these punitive measures may soon be known.
  • Rosemary Agnew, Scotland’s  Information Commissioner,  is looking for ways to inexpensively train public bodies. Agnew is trying to help public bodies  respond correctly to requests when they’re first made, effectively freeing up resources in the process.  Agnew has experience with responding to freedom of information requests. She found training to be expensive, and is working to find ways to make training more affordable and accessible to all employees in the public sector.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to It may be featured in a future post.



FOI DAILY DOSE: Agent accuses ATF of retaliation, Wired editorial examines open data dump issues

Ex-ATF agent accuses agency of retaliation over Project Gunrunner

An agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has accused his employer of retaliating against him for publicizing information on an agency scandal.

Vince Cefalu said he was given notice of his termination last week in a move he argues is motivated by his decision to speak out against “Project Gunrunner,” a scandal that revealed the ATF’s role in permitting thousands of guns to be sent across the U.S.-Mexico border and end up in the possession of Mexican drug gangs.

Cefalu’s termination letter doesn’t mention the Gunrunner situation, according to Fox News. One of the main reasons for firing him stated in the letter was his decision to leak documents on, a website Cefalu helped establish.

The Project Gunrunner fiasco led to congressional hearings on the issue and a public statement by Obama that the operation was a mistake.

Two days before Cefalu was notified of his firing, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., sent the ATF a letter telling its officials to refrain from retaliating against whistleblowers.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, posted a short comment online stating that the only acceptable response to this action by the ATF, if it turns out to have actually been whistleblower retaliation, is for a race between a few legislators and Obama to be “the first to kick the ass of the idiot at ATF who tried this.”

Wired editorial: Open data initiatives not sufficient by themselves

A Wired editorial by Jesse Lichtenstein examines the push for open data programs throughout the world, noting that dumping tons of government information online doesn’t mean transparency has been achieved.

Putting more government information online – as at least 16 countries have been doing via open data initiatives – is a step forward for transparency, but it can backfire.

Lichtenstein mentions the Bhoomi Project, which aimed to digitize about 20 million land titles in the Indian state of Karnataka, as an example of how data dumps can cause problems rather than provide open government solutions.

Instead of helping small landholders, the project helped corporations and wealthy tycoons that used the newly revealed data to challenge titles and find potential bribery targets.

If people aren’t taught to access and sift through the data governments put online, then the so-called data divide will widen and open data initiatives will fail to provide countries’ whole citizenry with better transparency.

Read the entire Wired editorial.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email ( or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).


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