(Brendan Smialowski/AFP Getty Images)

“I think it’s important for us to understand that the Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program begun under the previous administration. When Eric Holder found out about it, he discontinued it. We assigned a inspector general to do a thorough report that was just issued, confirming that in fact Eric Holder did not know about this, that he took prompt action and the people who did initiate this were held accountable.”

— President Obama during Univision interview, Sept. 20, 2012

President Obama on Thursday fielded some tough questions from Hispanic journalists and voters during a forum hosted by the Spanish-language television network Univision. Host Jorge Ramos asked Obama whether U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should be fired over Fast and Furious, a so-called “gun-walking”operation that allowed firearms to be transferred to suspected arms traffickers — and two guns purchased by a suspect in the Fast and Furious operation were found at a crime scene where a Border Patrol agent was killed.

Obama said the previous administration initiated Fast and Furious and that Holder shut the program down after he found out about it. Let’s check the first part of that statement for veracity.

The Facts

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the president’s Fast and Furious comments referred “to the flawed tactic of gun-walking, which despite Republicans efforts to politicize this issue, began under the previous administration.”

So Obama was supposedly talking about “Operation Wide Receiver,” which the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ran between 2006 and 2007, during the George W. Bush administration.

The ATF used that program to build a dossier against suspected traffickers, but federal authorities didn’t indict anyone until after the Justice department’s gang unit accepted the case for prosecution in September 2009 — after Obama took office.

Roughly one month after the Justice Department decided to press forward with that prosecution, the ATF’s Phoenix division launched Fast and Furious, again using gun-walking tactics. The program was similar to Wide Receiver, but it grew to involve significantly more firearms: 2,000.

The public learned about program after authorities linked two guns bought by a suspect in the Fast and Furious operation to the slaying of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. His death turned the gun-tracking program into a politically toxic matter.

Holder said he didn’t know about Fast and Furious before Terry was killed on Dec. 14, 2010 in southern Arizona. An 18-month independent investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general found no evidence to the contrary, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Pinocchio Test

Clearly, ATF didn’t develop the practice of gun walking under the current administration. But Obama specifically referred to “the Fast and Furious program,” which unquestionably started during his term as president. That operation was not “begun under the previous administration.”

Perhaps the president made a mistake, and he really meant to talk about gun-walking in general instead of a particular gun-walking operation. But he could also be trying to wash his hands of any accountability for a program that launched on his watch and allowed 2,000 powerful firearms to end up on U.S. and Mexican streets.

Either way, we can’t let politicians get away with this sort of egregious factual mistake. Otherwise they’ll start making them on purpose.

For what it’s worth, Obama has shirked responsibility for politically hot failures in the past. He earned two Pinocchios in a previous column for saying his administration wasn’t at fault “per se” for the $535 million federal loan that went to the now-bankrupt solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra.

Obama earns three Pinocchios for his comments about Fast and Furious. His factual error sends a message that the previous administration is responsible for gun walking and Operation Fast and Furious.

The Pinocchio Test

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