The obscure "Fast and Furious" investigation of the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder's actions in response to the probe of Chairman Issa of the Committee of Oversight and Government Reform, has drawn a contempt of Congress vote.
Government incompetence, cover-up and deception of members of Congress now blend with a dose of political pandering. However, an even more obscure matter - the Holder subpoena of records from the Irish Archives of Boston College - may prove to be more revealing of matters contemptible.
Fast and Furious may ultimately discredit the competence and credibility of Attorney General Holder. But if Holder honors the British request for interviews stored in Boston College Irish archives (now bolstered by the recent federal appeals court ruling) there may be political implications for the Obama administration and for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
At issue is the misuse of the U.S.-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) by Britain and the required consultation between the Departments of Justice and State before validating the request.
The timing and nature of the Boston College documents requested cast suspicion immediately on a political motivation. Britain wants a recorded interview with dissident Republican Dolours Price allegedly linking Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams with a killing 40 years ago in the midst of the killing spree of the British army. This is not a terrorist inquiry, not a drug laundering inquiry, not even an inquiry that could result in a conviction in a court, not even a British court.
In short, it has nothing to do with the purposes of the MLAT. But curiously, this demand for a sealed subpoena came from the British months before Mr. Adams was running for the Irish Dáil.
London's motivation for this data is unclear. Many believe the "deep state" security services MI5 and 6 are behind the request. Unofficial opposition to the Irish peace process from those services has been at work since the 1998 pact was signed. This phenomenon was noted by Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens describing the opposition of Egypt's corrupt institutions and Egyptian generals despite the removal of the Mubarak family.
Attempts at peace and reform in Northern Ireland face the same forces.
For example: * The Historical Enquiries Team reviewing nearly unsolved 900 killings, mostly Catholic, has now been "packed" with retired officers who can "clean up" and "expedite" the review of England's dirty war.
* Britain refuses to cooperate and provide records (ironic isn't it) to Ireland for the largest massacre of the conflict, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. Almost all those identified as involved were either members of the Ulster Defense Regiment of the British army or working under the direction of British army handlers.
* Perhaps the most hypocritical development was Prime Minister Cameron's unilateral dismissal of the agreement's provision to provide a public inquiry into the murder of attorney Patrick Finucane - a murder planned by security and vigilante forces.
Is this not the essence of contempt? Her majesty's government expects the U.S. to engage in political smear and turn a blind eye to their disemboweling of the Belfast Agreement while asking America's chief law enforcement officer to ignore their murder of an officer of the court.
There is a statutory requirement that the Departments of Justice and State consult on requests to determine if the investigation violates American values, supports American policies, and is a bona fide criminal investigation.
The contents of this consultation are, however, apparently secret, even to members of Congress. No one knows, for example, if State questioned the wisdom of sharing any data with the much politicized police force whose murdering partnerships with loyalist thugs were the subject of the Stevens report - a study so scandalous only a short summary could be published.
One can only hope that State compared PSNI use of loyalist killers to Syria's Assad use of Shabihas. Is this happening today? We hope not. But was it happening forty, thirty, twenty and even ten years ago? Most certainly!
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) co-chair of the Committee for Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) likened the murder of Finucane to the death by imprisonment of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Both lawyers called governments to account for their misdeeds and both were targeted for death.
The Department of State, in its zeal to get along with Russia, is opposing the Senator's Rule of Law Accountability Act. Is it likely that State, the last foothold of British influence in Washington, will oppose Holder's subpoenas over the mere murder of another lawyer?
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), has vigorously opposed enforcement of the subpoenas in conversations with Eric Holder, with British officials, in writing to Secretary of State Clinton, and in op-ed commentary.
He depicts the 2006 debate on the adoption of the MLAT and extradition treaties as pointing to the adoption of the 1998 Belfast Agreement meaning Britain was to focus on the future, and not the past.
Not surprisingly, with so much blood on their hands, British representations at the time seemed in agreement. Our Senate must be held in such low esteem or high contempt that five years after that debate, the British are fishing around in our universities for anything on a 1972 incident.
Only court argument has prevented these records from being turned over to the British. But if they are handed over, there is a case of contempt to answer alright.
But which one? The UK contempt for the U.S. Senate? The Departments of State and Justice and their contempt for the rule of law and human rights? The Obama administration's contempt for American values, commitment to the Irish peace process, and the 1998 Belfast Agreement?
Michael J. Cummings is a member of the National Board, Irish American Unity Conference. This op-ed was written before the release of the court of appeals ruling in the Boston College archives case.