One of the foundational myths of the right during its rise in the 1970s and 1980s was the idea that criminals were running rampant because lenient, liberal, bleeding heart, ‘soft on crime’ prosecutors were letting criminals off scot-free. The Charles Bronson and Dirty Harry movies were the mass market version of this myth, while a slightly higher-brow version was epitomized in The Star Chamber, in which Michael Douglas plays an idealistic young judge who joins a secret committee that knocks off criminals who game the system.
(I’ll understand if you youngsters think this refers to bankers and lenient regulatory agencies)
Ah, those were the days….
One of the interesting things to come out of the ‘Fast and Furious’ nontroversy is the role ‘soft on crime’ prosecutors played in the failure to prosecute (boldface mine):
The agents faced numerous obstacles in what they dubbed the Fast and Furious case. (They named it after the street-racing movie because the suspects drag raced cars together.) Their greatest difficulty by far, however, was convincing prosecutors that they had sufficient grounds to seize guns and arrest straw purchasers [of firearms]. By June 2010 the agents had sent the U.S. Attorney’s office a list of 31 suspects they wanted to arrest, with 46 pages outlining their illegal acts. But for the next seven months prosecutors did not indict a single suspect….
But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn….
In a meeting on Jan. 5, 2010, Emory Hurley, the assistant U.S. Attorney in Phoenix overseeing the Fast and Furious case, told the agents they lacked probable cause for arrests, according to ATF records. Hurley’s judgment reflected accepted policy at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona. “[P]urchasing multiple long guns in Arizona is lawful,” Patrick Cunningham, the U.S. Attorney’s then–criminal chief in Arizona would later write. “Transferring them to another is lawful and even sale or barter of the guns to another is lawful unless the United States can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the firearm is intended to be used to commit a crime.”
…It was nearly impossible in Arizona to bring a case against a straw purchaser. The federal prosecutors there did not consider the purchase of a huge volume of guns, or their handoff to a third party, sufficient evidence to seize them. A buyer who certified that the guns were for himself, then handed them off minutes later, hadn’t necessarily lied and was free to change his mind. Even if a suspect bought 10 guns that were recovered days later at a Mexican crime scene, this didn’t mean the initial purchase had been illegal. To these prosecutors, the pattern proved little. Instead, agents needed to link specific evidence of intent to commit a crime to each gun they wanted to seize.
None of the ATF agents doubted that the Fast and Furious guns were being purchased to commit crimes in Mexico. But that was nearly impossible to prove to prosecutors’ satisfaction. And agents could not seize guns or arrest suspects after being directed not to do so by a prosecutor….
The wiretap represented the ATF’s best—perhaps only— hope of connecting the gun purchases it had been documenting to orders from the cartels, according to Hurley. In Minneapolis, the prosecutors Voth had worked with had approved wiretap applications within 24 hours. But in Phoenix, days turned into weeks, and Group VII’s wiretap application languished with prosecutors in Arizona and Washington, D.C.
No one has yet explained this delay. Voth thinks prosecutor Hurley’s inexperience in wiretapping cases may have slowed the process. Several other agents speculate that Arizona’s gun culture may have led to indifference. Hurley is an avid gun enthusiast, according to two law-enforcement sources who worked with him. One of those sources says he saw Hurley behind the counter at a gun show, helping a friend who is a weapons dealer.
Here’s what soft on crime looks like, conservative style:
Prosecutors repeatedly rebuffed Voth’s requests. After examining one suspect’s garbage, agents learned he was on food stamps yet had plunked down more than $300,000 for 476 firearms in six months. Voth asked if the ATF could arrest him for fraudulently accepting public assistance when he was spending such huge sums. Prosecutor Hurley said no. In another instance, a young jobless suspect paid more than $10,000 for a 50-caliber tripod-mounted sniper rifle. According to Voth, Hurley told the agents they lacked proof that he hadn’t bought the gun for himself.
The irony here is rich. It would be funny except for the dead Border Patrol agent.
Soft of crime fuckers.