Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
As I wrote on Thursday, I’m not really losing sleep over the prospect of domestic targeted killing, mostly because it seems as though it would be so manifestly politically radioactive even within the intelligence community that I doubt it could be done secretly, and would almost certainly provoke a constitutional crisis if it became public. That said, as Marcy Wheeler notes, if we look closely at the precise wording of Attorney General Eric Holder’s response to Sen. Rand Paul disavowing any such presidential prerogative, it’s actually phrased in a way that seems calculated to preserve a fair amount of wiggle room:
It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question. “Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.
By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Operation Fast and Furious, which actually is not an effort to catch illegal drag racers. Instead, it’s an operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) where it’s been alleged that BATFE agents let tons of firearms flow south of the border by people they knew to be buying for the Mexican drug cartels. One of these guns was reportedly used to kill US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
The gun rights community, predictably, is up in arms (pun unintended) about it. Some are going so far as to claim it is all part of an effort to push forward increased gun regulations here. Yesterday, President Obama claimed executive priviledge regarding documents that Congress and subpenoaed. They had ordered them eight months ago.
Now, first let me address the conspiracy theory regarding using Fast and Furious being a way to push forward regulations here. I might have had something to do with that one. Months ago, on a blog that is no longer up on the net, I wrote that if I were inclined towards conspiracy theories, I would believe such a thing. After all, the use of American guns by drug cartels was cited by both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as reasons why we needed tougher gun regulations in the US. This was while Fast and Furious was going on and sending a proverbial buttload of guns down to Mexico…guns that BATFE knew about and did nothing to prevent.
Of course, a report from CBS News from December, 2011 looks like I might have been on to something:
Throughout this Fast & Furious mess, nearly everyone has paid attention to just Darrell Issa and Eric Holder squaring off in a Congress committee room. But there’s another thing that should be focused on, that being the agency at the heart of this disgrace. But I surely cannot have been the only person to ask this question:
Why do we even have ATF around anymore?
Well, maybe I have. Bear with me as I try to answer it.
Let’s read their mission statement:
A unique law enforcement agency in the United States Department of Justice that protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products. We partner with communities, industries, law enforcement, and public safety agencies to safeguard the public we serve through information sharing, training, research, and use of technology.
A “unique” agency? How can unique can that be?
“protects our communities from violent criminals” – Doesn’t every law enforcement agency do that?
“criminal organizations” – Sounds more like an FBI job or something for the gang squad of a local PD
“the illegal use and trafficking of firearms” – Okay, I can sorta see this one
“the illegal use and storage of explosives” – This one too, sort of, but I would think that other agencies could also handle explosions quite readily
“acts of arson and bombings” – Two words: fire department. Okay, four more: Federal Bureau of Investigation
Operation Gunrunner, also known as Operation Fast & Furious, has been a bit of an embarrassment to the BATFE to say the least. The operation, which knowingly permitted illegal straw purchases to go through, knowing that the guns would be send south of the boarder to Mexican drug gangs, hasn’t gone as sunny as planners had hoped. Now, the spotlight in turning onto Attorney General Eric Holder and his Justice Department.
The ATF’s acting director, Kenneth Melson, has been singing like a canary to congressional investigators as he pushes back against administration pressure for him to resign and take the fall for something that, at the very least, had to include the US Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and possibly the Homeland Security Department.
In a letter to Holder released yesterday, Rep. Daryl Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley accused the Justice Department of blocking their investigation into the burgeoning scandal (which has resulted in the deaths of at least two American agents and countless Mexican civilians), muzzling the ATF and involving other federal agencies, including the FBI and the DEA, in funding the crackpot scheme.
“The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons, but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities,” they wrote.
The Department of Justice came under fire this past week for its subpoena of Associated Press phone records without any notice to the news agency or targeted reporters. While Attorney General Eric Holder claims that the action was a response to a national security threat, it was actually part of the Obama Administration’s continuing war on whistleblowers and, as many see it, a shot directly at the free press, which is protected by the First Amendment.
The controversy has brought new attention on the need to protect Americans from this sort of government overreach. on Thursday, Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), and Jared Polis (D-CO) joined together to introduce H.R. 2014, the Telephone Records Protection Act, which would protect all Americans from this sort of government overreach:
Despite the Justice Department coming under fire for its seizure of AP phone records, which put the press in the middle of the Obama Administration’s war on whistleblowers, Attorney General Eric Holder is planning another controversial move.
Holder, who is certainly no stranger to scandal due to the DOJ’s involvement in Operation Fast and Furious and his subsequent refusal to turnover documents related to the gun-running scheme, is planning to use “regulatory power to make smaller changes” to gun control laws:
In an interview with Attorney General Eric Holder, after discussing the IRS scandal of seizing AP phone records, NPR’s Carrie Johnson checked in with Holder on the issue of gun control. According to Johnson, Holder stated that although the White House lost the battle over expanding background checks for gun purchasers, the administration will be trying again later this year to push gun control in Congress and using their “regulatory power to make smaller changes in the meantime.” Confirming the administration’s unrelenting commitment to what many believe is an infringement of the Second Amendment, Holder declared that the goal is, “moving the needle in the way in which the American people want, which is to make guns less accessible to people that should not have them.”
Not only is the Obama Administration dealing with the Benghazi and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party groups, they now have another scandal emerging. The Associated Press (AP) reported yesterday that the Justice Department (DOJ) had obtained phone records of journalists who work for the news organization:
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls.
In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown, but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
The Obama Administration has been trying to crackdown on whistleblowers and leaks to the press, and it appears that this exactly what’s going on here. The DOJ is investigating a leak to the AP that stems from a story dealing with a terrorist plot in Yemen that the new organization ran last May.
Last month, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) made an impressive, 13-hour stand against the Obama Administration’s domestic drones policy. The Department of Justice had made a tepid legal case for drone strikes against American citizens who are merely suspected of being a terrorist. Attorney General Eric Holder later said that a president could conduct drone strikes on American citizens suspected of terrorist activities inside the United States.
Paul objected to the notion. “I rise today for the principle,” Paul said during the filibuster. “The principle is one that as Americans we have fought long and hard for and to give up on that principle, to give up on the Bill of Rights, to give up on the Fifth Amendment protection that says that no person shall be held without due process, that no person shall be held for a capital offense without being indicted.”
Holder eventually relented his comments, acknowledging that a president doesn’t have the authority to kill an American citizen on American soil, and the coverage of the filibuster boosted Paul’s profile and added to the speculation that he would seek the Republican nomination in 2016. He would go on to win the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll just days after giving a dynamic speech in which he essentially laid out a platform for the future of the Republican Party.
The Assault Weapons Ban and universal background checks may be on the ropes, but the gun control bill Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is pushing through the Senate has what is essentially a “gun tax” buried in the language.
David Addington of the Heritage Foundation reports that the gun control bill would allow the Attorney General to impose an arbitrary fee on anyone selling a firearm to another individual:
Title I of the Reid gun control bill purports to “fix gun checks.” The proposed “fix” in section 122 of S. 649 is to take away an individual’s right to sell or give away a firearm to another individual unless, in most cases, the individual (1) uses a licensed importer, dealer, or manufacturer to make the transfer of the firearm and (2) pays a fee to that importer, dealer, or manufacturer to make the transfer. The individual transferring the firearm is not actually receiving a service; the federal government is receiving the service. The service the government gets is a background check on the intended recipient of the firearm, because the law requires the importer, dealer, or manufacturer to run the recipient through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Forcing the individual to pay for the government-mandated service, which is in fact a service to the government, is in essence a federal tax on the individual. And the amount the individual pays as a fee is not limited by the legislation; section 122(a)(4) of the Reid bill enacts a new section 922(t)(4)(B)(i) of title 18 of the U.S. Code to grant to Attorney General Eric Holder the power to set the maximum fee by regulation.
Free Press is holding its National Conference for Media Reform next week. The conference agenda describes the Internet as “central” to freedom of expression, which is how all mass media technologies have been described since the invention of the printing press ushered in the mass communications era. Despite recognizing that the Internet is a mass media technology, Free Press does not believe the Internet should be accorded the same constitutional protections as other mass media technologies. Like so many others, Free Press has forgotten that the dangers posed by government control of the Internet are similar to those posed by earlier mass media technologies. In a stunning reversal of the concepts embodied in the Bill of Rights, Free Press believes the executive and legislative branches of government are the source of protection for the freedom of expression. In their view, “Internet freedom means net neutrality.”