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Fast and Furious -- and the Marilyn Monroe gambit

June 25, 2012|By Patt Morrison
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller and his fiancee, actress Marilyn Monroe, on June 22, 1956, in New York.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller and his fiancee, actress… (Associated Press )

Fast and Furious was the name of the program, and fast and furious is the rat-a-tat-tat on Capitol Hill as the GOP-majority House is expected to follow a committee’s lead and cite the attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., for contempt, for not providing documents that the White House claims are subject to executive privilege.

And, as with the origins of the nation’s recession, the program’s principle also evidently goes back to the George W. Bush administration, when, for a time, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ran Operation Wide Receiver -- the idea being to track the flow of illegally purchased guns by letting them be shipped rather than intercepting them.

This method, which the Justice Department says it has opposed, is meant to try to find who the "big-gun" arms dealers are, which sounds like the same philosophy by which law enforcement decides to leverage the help of small-fry drug dealers to get to the major suppliers.  A Border Patrol agent named Brian Terry was killed in December 2010 in an Arizona  confrontation, by a bullet from an AK-47 that was reported to be one of the hundreds of guns that the ATF had lost track of.

(Vista Republican congressman Darrell Issa, who heads the mighty House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is leading the investigation and the contempt charges against Holder. When Issa’s phone started ringing during a Fox interview, he joked that "if it’s Barack, I’ll tell him we’re not available." I tried to imagine how the GOP might have reacted if a Democrat on a TV show had referred cavalierly to President Reagan as Ronnie.]

My favorite warp-and-weft spin on this many threaded story -- well, second favorite, after the paranoid notion that this is all about gutting the 2nd Amendment -- is the report by Newsweek writer Dan Klaidman that Issa’s chief investigative counsel offered to call off the congressional dogs on the contempt-of-Congress vote if the Justice Department agreed to hand over the head of an assistant attorney general. His name is Lanny Breuer, and he had apologized for not letting his Justice Department colleagues know about the gun-walking of Operation Wide Receiver when Congress started asking about Operation Fast and Furious.

However, an Issa spokesman called that "full of insinuation and deeply misleading." Frederick Hill said that neither Issa nor any of his staffers had called for Breuer’s resignation, even though "we are aware that Sen. Chuck Grassley [an Iowa Republican] has."  Hill denied to the Talking Points Memo website that Issa’s counsel had told the Justice Department that if Breuer resigned, it could delay or cancel the contempt vote. 

The reason it’s my favorite thread is because Newsweek’s report -- denied by Issa’s office -- nonetheless reminds me of something that happened under that same big white congressional dome nearly 60 years ago.

During the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s, the playwright Arthur Miller -- whose works had in fact been banned in the Soviet Union -- was, like many writers, summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee to account for his politics.

Miller’s good friend Norman Corwin was also a good friend of mine, and Norman told me more than once about how at least one member of a certain investigative congressional committee had taken Miller aside and told him that if Miller’s wife would pose with him and some of his colleagues, they could make the whole investigation go away.

Miller’s wife was Marilyn Monroe.


Rep. Darrell Issa and Fast and Furious

Fast and Furious: Times readers respond

Los Angeles Times backgrounder on Fast and Furious

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