The White House is moving to shore up support for embattled Attorney General Eric Holder as calls for his resignation continue to grow in the light of the Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal.
Eleven Republican congressmen piled on Holder on Monday, demanding that he quit, adding to 17 others who had already said it is time for him to go.
Others held off on calling for his immediate resignation, but said he has one last chance to redeem himself, when he appears before the House judiciary committee on Dec. 8.
Holder has come under increasing fire for stonewalling on Fast and Furious.
On Monday he released 652 pages of documents to congressional committees that are probing the scandal. Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee are now combing through the documents for evidence of wrongdoing.
The documents are understood to draw a parallel between Fast and Furious and a similar scheme called Operation Wide Receiver that was in operation during the George W. Bush presidency. This is providing some cover for Holder who can claim that he wasn’t in office when such programs started.
But Grassley said, “At first glance the documents indicate that contrary to previous denials by the Justice Department, the criminal division has a great deal of culpability in sweeping the previous Operation Wide Receiver strategy under the rug and then allowing the subsequent Operation Fast and Furious to continue without asking key questions.”
Once the documents were sent to Congress it became clear that Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s criminal department, was being set up as the administration’s fall guy. Breuer admitted that he failed to connect the dots between the operation and a similar failed scheme called Operation Wide Receiver that was run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) during the Bush years.
“Knowing what I now know was a pattern of unacceptable and misguided tactics used by the ATF, I regret that I did not alert others within the leadership of the Department of Justice to the tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver when they first came to my attention,” Breuer said in a statement issued after the document dump.
“When the allegations related to Operation Fast and Furious became public earlier this year, the leadership of ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona repeatedly assured individuals in the Criminal Division and the leadership of the Department of Justice that those allegations were not true,” said Breuer.
“As a result I did not draw a connection between the unacceptable tactics used by the ATF years earlier in Operation Wide Receiver and the allegations made about Operation Fast and Furious, and therefore did not, at that time, alert others within Department leadership of any similarities between the two.”
Breuer described it as a “mistake” that he had not pointed out the similarities between the two gunrunning schemes, saying he did not immediately make the connection because federal prosecutors and ATF leaders in Phoenix – the epicenter of both schemes – had told him accusations about Fast and Furious were baseless.
Breuer was due to give evidence before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, keeping the spotlight on him and away from Holder. But his mea culpa failed to ease the pressure on his boss. Now a total of 28 Republicans in Congress have gone on record saying Holder must go.
Rep. Michael Grimm of New York, one of the 11 who added his voice to the growing chorus on Monday, told Newsmax, “Attorney General Holder has a repeated pattern of misleading members of Congress under oath and Fast and Furious appears to be no exception. In this case, his claims don’t add up.
“As a consequence, I believe he has lost all credibility with Congress and the American people, which is why I am calling for his resignation.”
Under Fast and Furious, ATF agents were told not to intervene to prevent guns being sold even when they suspected they would end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The plan was to track all the weapons, but hundreds went missing and have been used in hundreds of crimes south of the border and at least 12 in the United States, including the murder of border agent Brian Terry in December last year.
The scandal has already cost the jobs of acting ATF director Kenneth Melson and U.S. Attorney for the Phoenix District, Dennis Burke, and many Republicans feel that Holder has to be next.
Grimm said he found it “unbelievable” that Holder was unaware of the details of Fast and Furious. “As a former federal law enforcement agent, I take the rule of law very seriously, especially when it concerns the death of a federal agent,” said Grimm, who worked as an FBI agent for nine years.
Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas said Fast and Furious is the last straw and cited other reasons such as the decisions to sue states over immigration laws, failure to prosecute the New Black Panthers over voter fraud and delays in bringing the alleged 9/11 conspirators to trial, as his reason for calling for Holder’s resignation.
“The list goes on and on,” said Gohmert, who said he had also joined in the calls for the resignation of George W. Bush’s attorney general Alberto Gonzales. “This is not political. It’s simply time for him to go,” he said.
“And if Eric Holder lets Lanny Breuer take the fall for Fast and Furious that would make it even more imperative that he should go,” Gohmert told Newsmax.
Another one of the 11, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, told the Daily Caller that Holder “owes it to the country and to the president to resign immediately.”
Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri was one of those holding off on an immediate call for Holder to go, but he told Newsmax, “Barring any major revelation in his upcoming Congressional testimony, his resignation would go a long way in helping to restore credibility to the office he now holds.”
Holder insists he knew nothing about Fast and Furious until this spring even though five emails turned up in by the investigators show that he was told of its existence in July last year. He says he had not read the emails which were routine weekly reports sent by Michael Walther, the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center.