Attorney General Holder grilled over gun sting

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2011 4:28 PM
Attorney General Holder grilled over gun sting

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Republicans grilled Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday over a botched gun-smuggling sting in Mexico and called on him to make personnel changes at the Justice Department in response.

"Some heads should roll," Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner said at a hearing before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

"What are you going to do to clean up this mess?" Sensenbrenner asked. "The answers that we've been getting so far are that 'Well, somebody else did it,'" he said.

Sensenbrenner said that Lanny Breuer, head of the department's criminal division and a key lieutenant to Holder, should resign. Sensenbrenner raised the possibility of impeachment, without specifying who should be impeached.

The operation, named Fast and Furious, has become an embarrassment for the Obama administration, but the president has shown no signs of moving to sack Holder or his subordinates.

The operation's failures have led to resignations of two officials: the U.S. attorney in Arizona, and the acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The operation was meant to track guns as they moved south of the border to members of the violent Mexican drug cartels after being bought by a so-called straw buyer. However, agents rarely pursued the weapons after they were bought.

As a result, 2,000 guns went missing and several hundred have been recovered, Holder said.

Eager to rack up political points against the White House, congressional Republicans have been on the attack over Fast and Furious for almost a year. Senator Charles Grassley, a senior Republican, on Wednesday called for the ouster of Breuer.

Holder conceded at the hearing that the tactics of Fast and Furious - using weapons as bait to track down gun runners - were "wholly unacceptable" and "must never happen again."

Republican Representatives Darrell Issa called the operation "failed and flawed from the beginning."

Issa pressed Holder on why department documents provided to his oversight committee on the matter have included no e-mails from Holder. "Don't you think it's a little conspicuous that there's no e-mail from you?" he asked.

Holder told Issa the department's response to his inquiries has been "unprecedented" and "responsive." Holder said, "We have not withheld any documents that are responsive. We have withheld information about ongoing investigations."

KAGAN'S ROLE EYED

Holder was also asked about Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's role in the 2009 health care reform.

Smith pressed Holder for access to documents related to Kagan's role as Obama's solicitor general in health care reform. Kagan has since become a Supreme Court justice. The high court is due to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the requirement that people buy health insurance.

Some Democrats have called for Justice Clarence Thomas to be recused because of his wife's work for the right-leaning Heritage Foundation think tank, while Republicans have called for Kagan's recusal because of her work for Obama.

Smith, who is pressing for more data about Kagan's role in the discussions, asked Holder for data on who attended meetings on legal challenges on health care reform.

"I can't imagine a good reason for you to withhold them unless you assert a legal privilege," Smith told Holder.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)