(WASHINGTON) — Embattled Attorney General Eric Holder will take the hot seat again on Thursday in what is expected to be a contentious hearing over the botched ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) gun running operation “Fast and Furious” before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The committee has been investigating the actions by ATF and Justice Department officials into the gun trafficking case that resulted in about 2,000 guns being allowed to go to drug cartels and criminal groups in Mexico. The ATF operation took a tragic toll when two guns linked to the operation were found near slain U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry on Dec. 14, 2010.
On Tuesday, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., threatened to hold Holder in contempt of Congress, claiming that the Justice Department has been withholding documents related to the congressional inquiry into Fast and Furious.
“If the department continues to obstruct the congressional inquiry by not providing documents and information, this committee will have no alternative but to move forward with proceedings to hold you in contempt of Congress,” Issa wrote to Holder.
Issa also addressed concerns he had over the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, proposing a cross-border operation with Mexican law enforcement officials to make arrests of gun straw purchasers on the border.
Issa is giving the Justice Department until Feb. 9 to turn over the requested documents. Critics also claim that emerging inter-agency emails contradict testimony Holder gave about his knowledge of the operation.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department responded with Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole writing to Issa.
“Your criticisms of the Department, in general, and Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer, in particular, seem predicated on significant misunderstandings…of the documents we recently produced,” Cole wrote.
Cole also defended Breuer, noting, “It is inconceivable that his intention was to have guns released into Mexico.”
Cole wrote that the Justice Department has cooperated with Issa’s investigation and has provided numerous resources, telling the committee that the department has provided more than 6,400 pages of material, made numerous witnesses available to testify, and had a team of lawyers collecting and reviewing requests and documents for the investigation. Issa and other critics claim the documents are slow in coming, and usually are “dumped” on Fridays, in an attempt for the documents to avoid scrutiny.
In prepared testimony, Holder on Thursday is expected to repeat many of the same points he has made before and to emphasize reforms at the ATF.
“If some of my comments today sound familiar, it is because this marks the sixth time I have answered questions about this operation before a congressional committee in the last year,” Holder’s prepared testimony reads.
Holder also is expected to repeat, “something that cannot be said often enough: Allowing guns to ‘walk’ — whether in this administration or in the prior one — is wholly unacceptable.” However, documents are proving that’s exactly what the agencies did, and Holder will be hard pressed to prove he had no knowlege of it.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jeremy Diamond and Stephen Collinson, CNN Newswire
Jeanne Sahadi, CNN