Fast and Furious Might Land Ron Machen Another Political Hot Potato

The ATF’s gun-smuggling operation may be the latest issue helping to turn the DC US Attorney into arguably the city’s most powerful leader.

By: Garrett M. Graff

Ron Machen better be a good juggler: He’s being handed hot potatoes faster than anyone in politics this spring.

Last week began with Machen, the DC US Attorney, taking his second City Council scalp of the year—chair Kwame Brown resigned Wednesday night and pleaded guilty to financial charges Friday in both local and federal court, just weeks after former council member Harry Thomas Jr. was sentenced to three years in prison for public corruption charges. The week ended with Attorney General Eric Holder handing Machen and Rod Rosenstein, the US attorney for the District of Maryland, the sensitive task of investigating national security leaks to the New York Times—leaks which almost assuredly appear to involve White House and/or national security officials.

While the DC US Attorney is normally one of the most high-profile prosecutors in the country, Machen’s tenaciousness and the unique political circumstances of DC politics at the moment have taken his role to a whole new level—turning him into arguably the city’s most powerful leader.

Now he looks like he might be given the task of investigating his own boss.

Yesterday, US House Speaker John Boehner and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced their support for House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa to consider criminal contempt of Congress charges against Holder, stemming from the ATF’s controversial gun-smuggling investigation Operation Fast and Furious. Issa’s committee says Holder is in contempt because the Justice Department has failed to turn over documents pursuant to an October 2011 subpoena.

Issa has been pursuing the contempt charges quietly for weeks, and the leadership’s support means he’s now formally scheduled a committee vote for next Wednesday.

“Despite what the investigation has uncovered through whistleblowers and documents the Justice Department had tried to hide, the Committee’s work is not yet complete,” Issa said yesterday in a statement.

If Issa’s committee supports the contempt charge, the measure would go to the full House of Representatives. If passed there, it would be referred formally to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia—launching Machen into the midst of another hot election-year topic. The GOP has made Fast and Furious a cornerstone of its attacks on Holder’s leadership, even though much of the investigation began under the Bush administration.

For his part, Holder—a former DC US Attorney himself—will be on the Hill today to testify in a previously scheduled Senate judiciary oversight hearing.