What did Attorney General Eric Holder know -- and when did he know it?
That's the question congressional investigators are asking -- and rightly so -- about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which stands exposed as having perpetrated one of the most bizarre gun-sting operations imaginable.
ATF's acting director, Kenneth Melson, is expected to walk the plank any minute now over the failed stings -- Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious.
But while his ouster is a necessary first step, it can't be the last.
Holder and Big Sis Napolitano need to be axed as well. They were responsible for the organizations and bureaucrats under their command. And they had an epic fail in their oversight and management:
The idea behind Fast and Furious, which was run in 2009 and 2010, was to track "straw purchaser" gun buyers in Arizona and link them to major weapons dealers south of the border.
What happened instead was that hundreds of high-powered weapons -- including AK-47-style semiautomatic rifles -- wound up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels while ATF agents essentially stood by and watched.
And two of those weapons turned up at the scene of a shootout in Arizona that took the life of Brian Terry, a Customs and Border Protection agent.
"Although my instincts made me want to intervene and interdict these weapons, my supervisors directed me and my colleagues not to make any stop or arrest," said ATF agent John Dodson. He told the House Oversight Committee last week that he was ordered to "keep the straw purchaser under surveillance while allowing the guns to walk."
His claims were backed up by two other ATF whistleblowers -- one of whom, Peter Forcelli, said that "to allow a gun to walk is idiotic," adding: "This was a catastrophic disaster."
Gee, ya think?
Holder has ordered the Justice Department inspector general to investigate -- but all available evidence points to Washington, not the local ATF bureau, as being responsible for this fiasco.
"They had to go to Justice to get money, to get FBI agents [and] all of the other people that helped coordinate this and to get the wiretaps they used," said Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
As for Holder, said Issa, "he should have known. It was his obligation to know." And other committee officials insist "it's quite certain that Kenneth Melson was not the principal architect of this plan."
Whether Holder and Big Sis knew doesn't matter. They should have known. If they knew and let this fiasco drag on, they need to go. If they didn't know, and they let rogue elements lead to the death of law enforcement and civilians, then they definitely need to go. And what did Obama know and when did he know it?