WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attorney General Eric Holder will testify in December to a congressional panel about a botched operation to track guns smuggled from the United States to Mexican drug cartels, officials said on Friday.
Holder has agreed go before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on December 8 which could lead to a fierce volley of accusations by congressional Republicans who have harshly questioned what the attorney general knew and when.
The debacle stemmed from an attempt to crack down on guns being smuggled to the violent drug cartels in Mexico, but agents failed to track the guns after their initial purchase.
Some have since been found at crime scenes on both sides of the border and complicated ties between the two countries.
Two weapons from the operation, dubbed "Fast and Furious", were discovered at the scene of a shootout in which a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed.
It is not known whether those guns fired the fatal bullets, but that incident led to some agents from the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to blow the whistle on the operation.
The attorney general has said he was unaware of the operation or its tactical details until after the scandal erupted earlier this year. The bungled operation has become a headache for the Obama administration.
Holder's planned congressional testimony was confirmed by spokeswomen for Holder and the committee.
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Republican Representative Darrell Issa, has repeatedly called on Holder to testify, seeking to sort out when he became aware of the operation and details on who approved it.
Issa, also a Judiciary Committee member, has been leading an inquiry by his own committee into the affair. He has accused Holder and other Justice Department officials of knowing earlier about the operation and its tactics, pointing to memos addressed to them that broadly referred to it.
No evidence has emerged that they knew specifically of the operation or its tactics before this year. The Justice Department's inspector general is also looking into it.
The scandal led to the resignation in August of the chief federal prosecutor in Arizona, Dennis Burke, whose office was running the operation in conjunction with the ATF.
The acting director of the ATF at the time, Kenneth Melson, also was removed from his job.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington, editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Doina Chiacu)