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Mr. Holder said he did not learn of Fast and Furious until earlier this year, although Mr. Grassley asked whether one of Mr. Holder’s deputies, Gary Grindler, told him in December or January that guns traced backed to Fast and Furious were found at the Terry homicide scene.

“No, he did not,” Mr. Holder said.

Mr. Grassley said Mr. Grindler, who two weeks later became Mr. Holder’s chief of staff, was told of the connection between the guns and Fast and Furious less than 48 hours after the shooting.

Both Mr. Grassley and Mr. Cornyn also criticized the Justice Department for sending what they called a false letter to Congress saying federal agents were making “every effort” to intercept weapons that were purchased illegally and prevent them from being transported into Mexico.

Mr. Holder said he regretted that the Justice Department had sent a letter to Congress that was misleading when the department rejected allegations of serious problems in the Fast and Furious operation. Most of the allegations came from ATF field agents questioning Fast and Furious.

He said the letter was “inaccurate” based on incorrect information and “I regret that.” He said the incorrect information was supplied by the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix and the ATF.

But Mr. Grassley said that while Mr. Holder indicated he regretted the fact that the department provided false information to Congress, “it’s unclear what he will be doing to hold accountable those in the department who knew it was false.

“It’s unconscionable that a federal agency would let such a misleading letter stand for more than nine months,” Mr. Grassley said. “The head of the Criminal Division knew it was false, his deputy knew it was false, the whistleblowers knew it was false, the documents suggested it was false, and I discovered it was false  — but, if Congress had relied on the department’s official talking points, we still wouldn’t know the truth today.

“Congress deserves more candid and honest responses to our questions,” he said.

Mr. Holder testified in May before a House committee that he first learned about Fast and Furious a few weeks earlier, but revised his testimony Tuesday, saying he “probably could have said a few months” earlier instead. Republicans have noted that Mr. Holder received briefing papers and reports on Fast and Furious on at least five occasions beginning as early as July 2010.

During the hearing, Democrats pointed out that the George W. Bush administration ran a similar investigation known as Operation Wide Receiver and that weapons also had been walked to Mexico. But Mr. Grassley said that while much had been said about guns being walked in Operation Wide Receiver, Bush-era prosecutors refused to bring the case.

He noted that the Wide Receiver operation was revived during the Obama administration.