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Mr. Holder has said he would meet with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, by Monday in an attempt to settle the dispute, and acknowledged that the Justice Department is preparing to give the panel documents showing how and when senior officials became aware of the Fast and Furious flaws.

In a letter to Mr. Issa on Thursday, Mr. Holder said the documents would fully address the committee’s concerns. He also offered a briefing on “how the department’s understanding of the facts of Fast and Furious evolved.”

On Thursday, Mr. Grassley said he would be willing to negotiate with the Justice Department concerning the impasse, but only if the department’s offer “isn’t hollow.”

“Contempt is the only tool Congress has to enforce a subpoena,” he said, adding that the Justice Department could avoid the action by complying with its legal obligation to turn over documents that have been sought under subpoena.

Mr. Grassley said the highest-ranking Justice Department official he is aware of who knew about gunwalking in Wide Receiver is Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. He said Mr. Breuer did nothing to stop the ATF from walking guns in Fast and Furious after learning about it in April 2010.

“If Attorney General Holder wants to criticize senior department officials who knew about gunwalking and did nothing, he should start with the current head of his own Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer,” he said.