Attorney General Eric Holder is guaranteed a hostile reception on Thursday when he appears before the House Judiciary Committee, two of whose members are among the most vociferous Republican critics of the DOJ and want someone to pay for its recent mistakes.
With the furor over the Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation refusing to go away, Holder can expect harsh questioning from Reps. Lamar Smith of Texas, the panel’s chairman; and another committee Republican, Darrell Issa of California, who as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has regularly criticized Holder and questioned his veracity. Smith has called for a special counsel to investigate the Attorney General (see Main Justice’s earlier report).
Dozens of House Republicans have demanded that Holder step down, as have a few Senate Republicans. And some have signaled that if the Attorney General himself is not forced out, someone close to him should be. The leading candidate to be that “someone” appears to be Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, especially after Sen. Charles E. Grassley’s angry Senate floor speech.
Should the members of the House Judiciary Committee tire of asking Holder about Fast and Furious, they can pepper him with questions about Breuer’s comments on “60 Minutes,” in which he defended the DOJ’s performance in the 2008 financial crisis (see Main Justice’s report).
But it is Fast and Furious, the gun-tracking operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, that is sure to draw the most fire. Fast and Furious aimed to track firearms to drug traffickers in Mexico via straw buyers. But ATF apparently lost track of hundreds of weapons, and two them were found at the scene of an Arizona shootout that killed Border Patrol agent Brian Terry last December.
Moreover, there have been questions about what Holder knew about Fast and Furious and when he knew it. As Main Justice reported in October, documents seem to indicate that Holder and other top DOJ officials were briefed on Fast and Furious in the summer of 2010, calling into question his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on May 3, in which he said he had only learned about the operation in the preceding few weeks.
The DOJ said later that Holder had misunderstood a question from the committee, and that he knew in general of the operation but not the specific and most controversial details.
Issa has been incensed about a Feb. 4 letter that Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich sent to Grassley, asserting that the DOJ makes every effort to intercept weapons and prevent them from going to Mexico. The DOJ had to backtrack on that letter, since the purpose of Fast and Furious was to let weapons go to Mexico to track them (see Main Justice’s report).
So far, Issa has refused to accept explanations that the Feb. 4 letter was an innocent, albeit regrettable, mistake. The letter continues to be embarrassing for Breuer, who testified on Capitol Hill in November that he could not remember if he saw a draft of it, a point FoxNews’ Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly made in a discussion on Tuesday.
“So Breuer is going to take the fall, then?” O’Reilly asked. Kelly replied that she couldn’t say.
Grassley has been particularly angry about the letter, and he has been openly disbelieving of Breuer’s explanations, as he was in his Senate remarks Thursday. He has called repeatedly for higher-ups at DOJ to be held accountable, a point he made in an interview on Monday. “They were stonewalling,” he told FoxNews’ Greta Van Susteren on Monday. “And to some extent they still may be stonewalling. But our goals have stayed the same. Number one, we want to find out who approved Fast and Furious, get that person fired.”
Matthew Boyle of The Daily Caller, one of the first to report the breakout of anti-Holder sentiment in the Senate, kept up the pressure on the Attorney General. “Fifty-two House members, two Senators, four presidential candidates and two sitting governors have already demanded Holder’s ouster,” he wrote in his latest dispatch, in which he has Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) calling for Holder to go.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the National Rifle Association has trained its sights on the Attorney General, asserting that Fast and Furious was a back-door attempt at gun control and setting up a special website, Fire Holder.