Accessibility links

Breaking News

US Attorney General Faces Critics Mexico Gun Operation

Attorney General Eric Holder, with local law enforcement officers behind him, including Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld, third from left, and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, center, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is defending his Justice Department's record and is pushing back against what he terms politically motivated attacks by Republican lawmakers over the "Operation Fast and Furious" gun scandal. More than 50 Republican lawmakers want Holder to resign over an operation in which U.S. law enforcement officers allowed suspects to walk off with weapons believed to be heading for the top levels of Mexican drug cartels.

"Operation Fast and Furious" led to a day of fast and furious grilling of Attorney General Eric Holder in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

Holder made clear Thursday that the controversial tactic known as "gun-walking", where U.S. law enforcement officials allowed suspects to take guns across the border into Mexico in an effort to track and arrest top arms and drug traffickers, is no longer being used.

Officers lost track of hundreds of weapons in Arizona that they were supposed to be monitoring. Many of the guns were eventually recovered from crime scenes, and two were found at the scene of a shooting in 2010 that killed U.S. border agent Brian Terry, provoking outrage.

Holder warned that more deaths could result from what he called a "fundamentally flawed" operation.

"Now, although the department has taken steps to ensure that such tactics are never used again, it is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come," he said. "Guns lost during this operation will continue to show up at crime scenes on both sides of the border."

But Holder again insisted that he and other top Justice Department officials were not aware of the operation when it was under way, and that when he found out about it, he stopped it.

Republican lawmakers are venting their anger over the failed operation at Holder, who has been a target for criticism of Democratic President Barack Obama over where to detain terrorists suspects.

"But Mr. Attorney General, the blame must go to your desk, and you must today take the real responsibility," said Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, who is one of Holder's leading critics. "Why have you not terminated the many people involved?"

President Obama has repeatedly expressed his confidence in Holder. Democratic members of the panel came to his defense, saying this one failed operation is just a small part of broad cooperation between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials to fight the drug and arms smuggling rings at the border.

Holder also pushed back at his critics.

"As we work to avoid future losses and further mistakes, it is unfortunate that some have used inflammatory and inappropriate rhetoric about one particular tragedy that occurred near the Southwest border in an effort to score political points," he said.

"Operation Fast and Furious" also attracted a lot of attention in Mexico, where top officials have long argued that U.S. weapons fuel the country's drug war. The Mexican attorney general's office has demanded a quick U.S. investigation of the operation and said authorities must hold those responsible accountable.