President Barack Obama said Thursday he has complete confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder amid Republican accusations that the attorney general was aware months sooner than he's acknowledged about a flawed operation to stem gun-smuggling.
At a White House news conference, the president said Holder has been very aggressive in pursuing gun-running and cash transactions that support drug cartels in Mexico.
Holder "indicated that he was not aware of what was happening in Fast and Furious," the president said. "Certainly I was not, and I think both he and I would have been very unhappy if somebody had suggested that guns were allowed to pass through" to arms traffickers rather than being seized by agents.
The attorney general says he found out early this year that such an investigative tactic was being used. Newly released Justice Department documents summarizing many different investigations for the attorney general in July 2010 reference the Fast and Furious operation, but not the tactic.
The president noted that Holder has assigned the Justice Department inspector general's office "to look into how exactly this happened.
"I have complete confidence in him, and I've got complete confidence in the process to figure out who, in fact, was responsible for that decision and how it got made," Obama said.
Meanwhile, a first-term Republican congressman, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, called on Holder to resign.
The recently released documents "have convinced me that" the attorney general "is either lying or grossly incompetent," said Labrador.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, encouraged Holder to "come up to the Hill and clear this up as soon as possible."
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the brief entries in the newly released documents "reveal nothing of the dangerous tactics that were employed in this operation, and apparently, another operation during the Bush administration."
Schmaler's reference was to a Tucson, Ariz.,-based investigation of gun-trafficking in 2006 called Operation Wide Receiver.
Fast and Furious, which focused on some Phoenix-area gun shops, tried to track gun-smuggling beyond straw purchasers to previously unreachable gun-running kingpins. Officials say that agents lost track of about 1,400 of more than 2,000 guns identified in the operation. A number of the guns have been recovered at crime scenes in Mexico.
The operation came to light after two assault rifles purchased by a now-indicted small-time buyer under scrutiny in the operation turned up at the scene of a shootout in Arizona where Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was killed.
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