Today before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder substantially changed his previous testimony about the Fast and Furious scandal, an Obama administration undercover gun operation that sold more than 2,000 guns to Mexican drug cartels.
Holder now repudiates the controversial program, calling it “unacceptable” and “flawed.” He says he was “bothered” by the program and that it was “inappropriate.” He did not say, however, that the undercover operation violated any federal laws.
The program was initiated in 2009 by the administration and executed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a division of the U.S. Department of Justice. The bureau reports to the attorney general.
Guns linked to Fast and Furious were used in the killing of two U.S. agents and an estimated 200 people in Mexico.
Holder contradicted his previous statement that he personally became aware of the ATF program only a “few weeks” before his May 2011 testimony. Now, Holder admits he knew about the controversial gun running operation as early as the beginning of the year.
Acting as if he was still confused about the Fast and Furious program, he said: “Like each of you, I want to understand why and how” the gunwalking program came about. He says he is looking to to the Department’s inspector general “to learn” who had thought up the program and implemented it.
Dissatisfied with Holder’s response, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) asked the attorney general: “Are you winging this?”
His May 2011 denial of knowledge about the program contrasted with internal Justice Department memos that had circulated to Holder’s office as early as February of this year. The contradiction in his earlier testimony has prompted some members of Congress to call for Holder’s resignation.
Holder now concedes that as early as February he had learned about Fast and Furious, and that at the time he had directed agents to make corrections to the undercover operation.
Previously, Holder and officials at the Department of Justice had stonewalled congressional inquiries into the undercover operation.
Holder defended his deputy, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who on February 4, 2011 sent an erroneous and misleading letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee about Fast and Furious. Ranking Judiciary Committee Sen. Charles Grassley (R-KS) wanted to know if any Justice Department official “was accountable” for the submission of erroneous information to Congress. Holder told Sen. Grassley that Breuer did not offer to submit his resignation when his answers to the Senate were discovered to have been factually misleading and erroneous. Holder added he did not ask for Breuer’s resignation.
Holder claims he cannot be expected to “know about each and every program on a daily basis.” He said he “did not see” many documents that had his name on them referring to Operation Fast and Furious.
He blamed his staff for not forwarding the memos to him.