Defending himself and his department Attorney General Eric Holder has vehemently denied misleading Congress about a controversial gun operation and accused Republican critics of resorting to “irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric [that] must be repudiated.”
In a letter to the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Judiciary and House oversight committees, Holder repeated assertions he made to investigators, saying that he did not know the details of Operation Fast and Furious, a controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gun investigation that allowed guns to be smuggled across the Mexican border in an effort to trace them.
“I have not spoken at length on this subject out of deference to the review being conducted, at my request, by our Department’s Inspector General,” Holder said, in the letter. “However, in the past few days, the public discourse concerning these issues has become so base and so harmful to interests that I hope we all share that I must now address these issues notwithstanding the Inspector General’s ongoing review. ”
During the past week, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), have released DOJ documents they say show that Holder knew about Fast and Furious as early as July 2010. The memos addressed to Holder mention Fast and Furious, but do not discuss the controversial aspect of the operation–so-called “gunwalking.”
Fast and Furious allegedly resulted in the selling of at least 2,000 firearms to drug cartel members in Arizona via straw buyers. The ATF then allegedly permitted the guns to be trafficked to Mexico, where the bureau lost track of them. Two guns from the operation were recovered in December at the scene of a shootout between Border Patrol agents and Mexican bandits near Rio Rico, Ariz., that resulted in the death of Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry. Other guns sold during the operation have been linked to violent crime scenes in Mexico. In recent days, memos also have made it clear that gunwalking was permitted during the George W. Bush administration. The Justice Department’s Inspector General is investigating the operation.
House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has called for a special counsel to investigate the attorney general. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) went so far as to suggest that administration officials be charged as accessories to Terry’s death.
Holder condemned comments made by Republicans, particularly Gosar. “I simply cannot sit idly by as a Majority Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered accessories to murder,” he wrote in the letter. “Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms.”
Holder said he took decisive action once he learned of Fast and Furious, referring the matter to the IG, attempting to ensure that DOJ officials do not allow gunwalking and eventually replacing the leadership of ATF and the U.S. attorney in Arizona.
Holder also defended his testimony before the House oversight committee. “My testimony was truthful and accurate and I have been consistent on this point throughout,” he said in the letter. “I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it. Prior to early 2011, I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation and it is my understanding that the former United States Attorney for the District of Arizona and the former Acting Director and Deputy Director of ATF have told Congress that they, themselves, were unaware of the tactics employed. I understand that they have also told Congress that they never briefed me or other Department leadership on the misguided tactics that were used in Fast and Furious. ”
Discussing memos that Republicans say indicate that he knew about the operation, Holder said his office receives more than a hundred pages of “weekly reports” every week and that while they are addressed to him, they actually are read by his staff. He said the weekly reports released by Republicans do not “say anything about the unacceptable tactics employed by ATF.”
The attorney general also accused his critics of emphasizing the gunwalking issue, while at the same time refusing to consider whether the ATF has sufficient resources and legal tools it needs to do its job