(CNSNews.com) – Embattled Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that more violent crimes could result from the “deeply flawed” botched gun sting, Operation Fast and Furious, but at the same time scolded members of Congress for investigating the matter.
But a lack of candor from the Justice Department about Fast and Furious prompted a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee to mention the possibility of impeachment.
“It is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come,” Holder told the House Judiciary Committee. “Guns lost during this operation will continue to show up at crime scenes on both sides of the border.”
But he went on to denounce the investigation by members of Congress, which has been led by the House Oversight and Investigations Committee. Thus far, 53 members of Congress have called on Holder to resign.
“Operation Fast and Furious appears to have been a deeply flawed effort to respond to these challenges,” Holder said. “As we work to avoid future losses and further mistakes, it is unfortunate that some have used inflammatory and inappropriate rhetoric about one particular tragedy that occurred near the Southwest Border in an effort to score political points.”
He later said, “Going forward, I hope that we can work together to provide law enforcement agents with the tools they need to protect the country to ensure their own safety. For their sake, we cannot afford to allow the tragic mistakes of Operation Fast and Furious to become a political sideshow or a series of media opportunities.”
Operation Fast and Furious is a Justice Department program that began in September 2009 in which federal law enforcement knowingly allowed about 2,000 guns to flow to Mexico with the intent of tracing the guns to drug cartels. However, the government lost track of the guns. The operation was halted in December 2010 after two guns from the operation were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Holder told the House Judiciary Committee that “several hundred” of the guns have been retrieved, but said he has no sense of the number of guns used in violent crimes.
Members of Congress express frustration over the lack of clarity in the answers Holder provided.
“The American people need the truth. They haven’t gotten the truth in what has come out of the Justice Department,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) a senior member of the Judiciary Committee.
“You are here today, and I appreciate that. But the answers you’ve given us so are precisely saying: Well, somebody else did it,” Sensenbrenner said to Holder. “If we don’t get to the bottom of this, and that requires your assistance on that, or there is only one alternative Congress has. It’s called impeachment.” He added, “Now I’ve done more impeachments than anybody else in the country. They’re expensive and messy. I don’t want to go that far.”
Holder responded, “We made the determination the Justice Department would release information that the Justice Department has never released before.” He added, “We all want to get to the bottom of this.”
Holder repeated several times throughout the hearing that the Justice Department provided an “unprecedented” amount of documentation to Congress to show why a Feb. 4 letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to Congress stated that the Justice Department never allowed guns to walk, a letter the department had to rescind.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House oversight panel, took issue with Holder’s use of the word “unprecedented.”
“Unprecedented would be an attorney general who knew nothing about something where his own present chief of staff was intimately familiar,” Issa said. “Gary Grindler was well aware, according to documents provided on the Fast and Furious on March 12, 2010.”
Holder responded, “Gary Grindler was not provided with information about the tactics that were used there.”
Holder and other Democrats on the committee stressed that Operation Wide Receiver was conducted under the Bush administration’s Justice Department in which guns were allowed to walk. Republicans countered that that Wide Receiver was conducted in coordination with the Mexican government, while the Mexican government was not notified of Operation Fast and Furious.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, staunchly defended Holder.
“I have never encountered an attorney general more dedicated and more professionally efficient occupant of that chair than Eric Holder,” Conyers said.
Holder said he has released an unprecedented amount of documents to Congress on the matter, asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the matter and new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Acting Director Todd Jones has instituted new reforms to prevent gunwalking.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said, “To believe you weren’t aware of Fast and Furious requires – to coin a phrase – a willing suspension of disbelief.”
“It is hard for me to believe you were unaware of this operation,” Poe said. “My question is very simple, who is the person in the U.S. government that made the decision in Operation Fast and Furious to send guns to Mexico.”
Holder responded, “We don’t know yet.” After a back and forth, Holder finally said, “I’d be surprised if we ever see a document that somebody signed off on that said ‘let guns walk.”