Holder tells Cornyn in faceoff on gunrunning he won’t quit

Clash heats up hearing on Hill

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. came under a withering attack Tuesday from Republicans over his handling of the botched Fast and Furious gunrunning investigation, including a call by one senior Senate Judiciary Committee member for his resignation.

During a heated exchange during a Judiciary oversight hearing, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said Mr. Holder had failed “the basic standards of political independence and accountability” in determining who knew about or approved the “walking” of guns into Mexico. “Americans deserve an attorney general who will be honest with them,” he said.

“You have proven time and time again, sadly, that you’re unwilling to do so. I’m afraid we have come to an impasse. You have violated the public trust, in my view,” Mr. Cornyn said. “It is more with sorrow than regret and anger that I would say that you leave me no alternative than to join those who call upon you to resign your office.”

Mr. Cornyn, who said he also was concerned about Mr. Holder’s refusal to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate “possibly politically motivated leaks” of classified information by the Obama administration, cited a litany of actions he said demonstrated that Mr. Holder has “allowed politics to trump independence, transparency and accountability.”

“Meanwhile, you still resist coming clean about what you knew and when you knew it with regard to Operation Fast and Furious. You won’t cooperate with a legitimate congressional investigation, and you won’t hold anyone, including yourself, accountable,” he said. “In short, you’ve violated the public trust, in my view, by failing and refusing to perform the duties of your office.”

Mr. Holder responded with defiance.

“I don’t have any intention of resigning,” he said firmly. “I heard the White House press officer say yesterday that the president has absolute confidence in me. I don’t have any reason to believe that in fact is not the case.”

Mr. Holder also described as “factually wrong” a laundry list of concerns by Mr. Cornyn in calling for the resignation. He also said he had tried unsuccessfully on numerous occasions to meet with congressional investigators regarding Fast and Furious and had testified eight times before several committees concerning the gunrunning operation.

This “leads me to believe that the desire here is not for an accommodation but for political point-making,” he said. “And that is the type of thing that you and your side have the ability to do if that’s what you want to do. It is the thing that I think turns people off about Washington. While we have very serious problems, we’re still involved in this political gamesmanship.”

Fast and Furious was an attempt by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to allow “straw buyers” in Arizona to “walk” weapons into Mexico with a goal of tracking them to drug cartel leaders. But ATF lost track of hundreds of the weapons, nearly 600 of which have not been recovered.

Investigations by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, found that ATF allowed more than 2,000 weapons to be “walked.”

Two Romanian-made AK-47 assault rifles purchased during the operation were found at the site of the December 2010 fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry near the Arizona border town of Nogales.

House Republicans are scheduled to vote next week on a contempt-of-Congress resolution against Mr. Holder for failing to comply with a subpoena requesting documents.

Also during the hearing, Mr. Grassley said “constant stonewalling” by Justice in the release of requested documents was why a House committee was forced to move forward with contempt proceedings. He urged Mr. Holder to “show some leadership and to avoid this constitutional standoff and come clean.”

Mr. Grassley said the Justice Department has said it provided 80,000 pages about Fast and Furious to its Office of Inspector General. But the senator said his staff learned last week during Mr. Holder’s testimony in the House that the department actually has gathered 140,000 pages of documents for the inspector general’s review.

He said the department has released just 7,000 pages of Fast and Furious documents to congressional investigators, which he described as “just a spit in the ocean.”

Mr. Grassley also noted that Terry died in a shootout with Mexican bandits armed with two AK-47s purchased by straw buyers in Arizona, adding that three ATF whistleblowers challenged the practice of letting guns “walk” into Mexico in testimony a year ago before a House committee. He said Terry’s mother and sister testified that same day.

“Here we are - one year later - and the Terry family is still waiting for answers. They are still waiting for justice. The FBI doesn’t have the shooter in custody. And the Justice Department is still defying a congressional subpoena for information about how all this happened,” he said.

He also noted that Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, admitted that he knew about a gun-walking operation during the George W. Bush administration called Wide Receiver but failed to speak up about it when he was sent copies of a letter he had written to Mr. Grassley denying that ATF ever let guns walk.

Mr. Grassley said Mr. Breuer stayed silent for eight months while the public controversy over gunwalking grew, adding that information has since surfaced showing that Mr. Breuer’s deputy discussed gunwalking in the context of both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious.

“So senior people at Justice had to have known the details of what was going on,” he said.

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