President Obama received a welcome bit of news following his press conference on gun control, when the Justice Department announced the indictment of a Toledo man whose alleged crime tended to ratify the importance of the administration’s gun control proposals.
On Wednesday afternoon, DOJ announced that it was charging a convicted felon for illegally possessing 18 firearms, body armor, and 40,000 rounds of ammunition.
“It is deeply troubling that law enforcement found this man, with a prior homicide conviction, in possession of an arsenal,” U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said in a pitch-perfect statement on the charges. “We owe the FBI and our other law enforcement partners our thanks that they caught this man, with 18 firearms – some of them assault weapons – high-capacity magazines, more than 40,000 rounds of ammunition, and a bulletproof vest stored in a locked room in a mall, before anyone was hurt.”
Just hours earlier, of course, Obama had called for a ban on assault weapons such as the ones the accused possessed and for universal background checks. “If you want to buy a gun — whether it’s from a licensed dealer or a private seller — you should at least have to show you are not a felon or somebody legally prohibited from buying one,” Obama said, just hours before DOJ provided real-time evidence to strengthen the president’s argument.
This is not to suggest that DOJ should not have charged the man, but that it’s notable that the DOJ press team was so prepared to ratify the administration’s larger narrative so promptly. The Washington Examiner asked the DOJ press office if they coordinate with other branches of the executive department or time to indictments to coincide with administration priorities currently in the news, but did not hear back in time for this publication.
J. Christian Adams, a former DOJ attorney who in 2010 accused the department of racial bias in favor of the New Black Panthers, said that the public affairs office uses its ability to drive news to support the administration.
“It’s not an interagency coordination,” Adams told The Examiner. “There is no doubt that the Office of Public Affairs will drive events — and that happens across all administrations; it’s not unique to the Obama administration — where a particular announcements are made to coincide with a larger narrative out of the White House.”
The Wednesday weapons charge is not the only time a DOJ announcement helped the administration on a high-profile issue. In December of 2011, a week after Attorney General Eric Holder testified before Congress about Operation Fast and Furious, DOJ cracked down on a gun dealer for selling weapons to a middleman who funneled the arms to drug cartels.
The gun dealer “sold firearms and ammunition to confidential sources who were working with law enforcement and to undercover law enforcement agents posing as straw purchasers, believing that the confidential sources and agents intended to illegally smuggle the firearms and ammunition to Mexico,” DOJ said at the time.
Operation Fast and Furious, of course, involved the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives directing gun dealers to sell weapons to straw purchasers — which weapons law enforcement then allowed to be smuggled into Mexico — so that the weapons could be traced after they appeared at crime scenes.
In January of 2012, as a congressional debate with no clear party lines raged about how to fight online piracy, DOJ assured the world that the Obama administration was doing everything it could to protect intellectual property rights.
“Seven individuals and two corporations have been charged in the United States with running an international organized criminal enterprise allegedly responsible for massive worldwide online piracy of numerous types of copyrighted works, through Megaupload.com and other related sites, generating more than $175 million in criminal proceeds and causing more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners,” DOJ announced on January 19.
In February of 2012, Obama announced a $25 billion settlement with five of the banks involved in the housing crisis that the administration said would provide much-needed recompense to the Americans who lost their homes.
Just days earlier, as if to inoculate Obama against the eventual complaints that he went to easy on Wall Street, DOJ announced the indictment of three former Credit Suisse officials for “fraudulently inflating the prices of asset-backed bonds, which comprised subprime residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS) and commercial mortgage backed securities (CMBS) in Credit Suisse’s trading book in late 2007 and early 2008.”
The point is not to suggest that any of these indictments are inappropriate legal actions, but that the press shop has a remarkable ability to reinforce the Obama administration’s needed message on a variety of fronts.
“The Office of Public Affairs is not seen as an office that delivers information, it’s seen as a political propaganda office,” Adams said, recalling the emails exchanged between Office of Public Affairs director Tracy Schmaler and the liberal Media Matters. He added that he believes the DOJ press office is “hyper-partisan.”
Adams also noted that former DOJ spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa also worked at Media Matters before joining DOJ in 2009. She left the Justice Department to work for the Senate campaign of Rep. Shelly Berkely, D-Nev., as communications director.