- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2011

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., during a rancorous House committee hearing Thursday, dismissed Republican calls to fire top Justice Department officials involved in the botched Fast and Furious weapons operation and repudiated charges that his agency lied to Congress during the investigation.

Mr. Holder said the department’s leadership was not told of the “inappropriate tactics employed” in the operation that allowed more than 2,000 weapons to be walked into Mexico, and dubbed as “remarkable” accusations that top Justice Department officials had hatched the plan.

Advised by Republican lawmakers during the often-angry hearing that “heads should roll,” he told the House Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department had been “fully cooperative and responsive in its dealings with Congress” and had handed over nearly 5,000 pages of documents for congressional investigators to review.

“Just last week, we provided unprecedented access to internal deliberative documents to explain how inaccurate information was initially conveyed to Congress,” he said.

In explaining how lawmakers had been misled about the operation in several initial reports, Mr. Holder said those documents demonstrated that department personnel relied on information provided by supervisors in the field, but that some of that information was inaccurate.

Rep. Darrell Issa points to a poster depicting Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. as the lawmaker makes his opening statement during Mr. Holder's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
Rep. Darrell Issa points to a poster depicting Attorney General Eric H. ... more >

“The documents produced to date also belie the remarkable notion that this operation was conceived by department leaders, as some have claimed,” he said. “It is my understanding that department leaders were not informed about the inappropriate tactics employed in this operation until those tactics were made public and, as is customary, turned to those with supervisory responsibility over the operation in an effort to learn the facts.”

Many Republican committee members challenged the attorney general’s explanations, saying Mr. Holder needed to fire some of the department’s top officials.

“Heads should roll,” said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, suggesting that impeachment was an option if Mr. Holder failed to “clean up this mess” quickly, although he didn’t specifically name an impeachment target.

Mr. Sensenbrenner told Mr. Holder, “There is really no responsibility within the Justice Department. The thing is, if we don’t get to the bottom of this - and that requires your assistance on that there is only one alternative that Congress has and it is called impeachment.”
Committee member Rep. Darrell E. Issa, a California Republican who also has been investigating Fast and Furious as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was more direct in placing blame for the failed operation, telling the attorney general that responsibility for the botched operation “must go to your desk.”

Mr. Issa said Congress has been “systematically lied to” by department officials, and at one point, Mr. Issa and Mr. Sensenbrenner reminded Mr. Holder that lying to Congress was a federal felony.

“Nobody in the Justice Department has lied,” said Mr. Holder, adding that the department did not intentionally give false information to Congress.

“I am here to tell the truth,” he said, adding in response to a question that he had “no intention of resigning.”

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and the committee’s chairman, set the hearing tone early, accusing the Justice Department in his opening statement of failing to cooperate in the panel’s ongoing investigation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ operation called Fast and Furious and the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry.

“Operation Fast and Furious intentionally allowed straw buyers for criminal organizations to purchase hundreds of guns so the ATF could track them across the U.S.-Mexico border. But Fast and Furious had a fatal flaw. Once purchased, there was no attempt to follow the firearms,” Mr. Smith said.

“Instead, the guns were allowed to cross over into Mexico without any coordination with Mexican authorities or any attempt to track the firearms,” he said. “Tragically, two of the guns were found at the scene of the shooting death of Customs and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. And by the department’s own admission, hundreds of guns remain unaccounted for.”

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