(CNSNews.com) – Attorney General Eric Holder declined the chance to apologize to the family of slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was killed in December 2010 and where, at the crime scene, at least two of the firearms recovered were traced to the Justice Department’s botched gunwalking program, Operation Fast and Furious.
“I certainly regret what happened to agent Brian Terry. I can only imagine the pain that his family has had to deal with. I’m the father of three children myself,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. “It pains me whenever there is the death of a law enforcement official, especially under the circumstances that this occurred. It is not fair, however, to assume that the mistakes that happened in Fast and Furious directly led to the death of agent Terry.”
Holder took numerous questions about Fast and Furious during his testimony. He explained that he was inaccurate when he said on May 3 that he had known about the program, at that time, only for a few weeks. He also testified that he had never received memos that were addressed to him between July and November of last year regarding Fast and Furious and had first learned about the matter early this year.
Operation Fast and Furious was a Justice Department operation that began in September 2009. In the operation, federal law enforcement officials in Phoenix, Ariz., knowingly allowed about 2,000 guns to flow to Mexican drug cartels. Many of those guns subsequently were used in crimes. The program was halted in December 2010 after Agent Brian Terry’s murder.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Holder, “When did you first learn the operational tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious and what did you do about it?”
Holder answered that he did not learn of the operation until 2011 when the matter was in the news and when he talked to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). He also said he misspoke when he told the House Judiciary Committee on May 3 that he had learned about the operation only in the last few weeks.
“I first learned about the tactics and the phrase Operation Fast and Furious at the beginning of this year when it became a matter of public controversy,” Holder said on Tuesday. “In my testimony before the House committee, I did say a few weeks. I probably could have said a couple of months. What I said about a few weeks was inaccurate based on what happened. I got a letter from Sen. Grassley -- I believe it was Jan. 31.”
Holder explained that he had already asked the Justice Department’s Inspector General to look into the matter. He said to focus on “which day and which month” is a “distraction” from the larger issue of stopping guns from going into Mexico.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) later asked during the hearing, “You’re not suggesting are you General Holder that it’s not your responsibility to have known about this operation?”
Holder said, “There are 150,000 employees in the United States Department of Justice.”
Cornyn said, “And the buck stops with you.”
Holder conceded, “I have ultimate responsibility for what happens in the department. I cannot be expected to know the details of operations in the Justice Department on a day-to-day basis.”
Cornyn later followed by pointing out a July 5, 2010 memo and a Nov. 1, 2010 memo addressed to Holder referencing Operation Fast and Furious.
Holder said it was “incorrect” that he received those memos.
Cornyn responded, “They were memos with your name on them referring to the Fast and Furious operation. Are you just saying you didn’t read them?”
Holder said, “I didn’t receive them. What happens is that these reports are prepared, they are reviewed by my staff.”
Cornyn asked, “Have you apologized to the family of Brian Terry?”
Holder answered, “I have not apologized to them. I certainly regret what happened.”
Cornyn followed, “Have you talked to them?”
Holder said, “I have not.”
Cornyn gave him an opportunity. “Would you like to apologize today for this program that went so wrong that took the life of a United States law enforcement agent?”
Holder said that he regretted the death and said it could not be blamed necessarily on Operation Fast and Furious.
“I certainly regret what happened to agent Brian Terry,” said Holder.
“It is not fair, however, to assume that the mistakes that happened in Fast and Furious directly led to the death of agent Terry,” he said. “Again, my feelings of sympathy and regret go out to the Terry family.”
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats on the committee brought up Operation Wide Receiver, a program in which the Bush administration allowed guns to walk into Mexico. In this case, 350 guns flowed to Mexico and were tracked.
Cornyn pointed out that the two programs had a key difference when questioning Holder.
“Do you know that Wide Receiver was done in conjunction with the government of Mexico?” Cornyn asked. “Neither was there the intention to follow the weapons in Fast and Furious. Nor did Mexico know the United States government was allowing guns to walk into the hands of the cartels. Did you know that?”
Holder said, “Senator, I’m not trying to equate the two.”