U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has faced a new round of Republican criticism over a controversial tactic in which U.S. authorities allowed gun buyers to move arms into Mexico, destined for drug cartels.
In testimony to Congress Thursday, Holder said "Operation Fast and Furious" was flawed, and that allowing arms to "walk" - under any circumstance - is unacceptable.
"The tactic of not interdicting weapons, despite having the ability and legal authority to do so, appears to have been adopted in a misguided effort to stem the alarming number of illegal firearms that are trafficked each year from the United States to Mexico," Holder said. "Now, to be sure, stopping this dangerous flow of weapons is a laudable and critical goal, but attempting to achieve it by using such inappropriate tactics is neither acceptable nor excusable."
Holder told lawmakers on the committee Thursday that he never authorized the operation, and ordered it to stop after he found out about it.
Republicans charge that the Justice Department has not provided enough information to them.
The head of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, California Republican Darrell Issa, has accused Holder of protecting staff, deceiving the public and obstructing the panel's investigation.
At the hearing Thursday, he warned of possible congressional action to force the Justice Department to provide information to the committee.
"Mr. Attorney General, you have, the Executive Branch has, executive privilege," said Issa. "It?s narrow. It?s well-defined. There is case law. If you do not find a legitimate basis to deny us the material we?ve asked for, we will seek the remedies necessary to compel."
U.S. authorities lost track of hundreds of weapons they were supposed to be monitoring. Many weapons eventually were recovered from crime scenes. Two were found at the scene where U.S. border agent Brian Terry was shot and killed in 2010.
Holder said the Justice Department is building its case and is close to making announcements regarding arrests and holding those responsible for the agent's death and the flawed operation.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.