Attorney General Eric Holder Faces Heat on Bungled Gun Sting

Attorney General Eric Holder heads to Capitol Hill to face tough questions about a botched operation. Aram Roston reports.

Chris Maddaloni, CQ-Roll Call / Getty Images

Even before Attorney General Eric Holder set foot Thursday in a Capitol Hill hearing room, there were plenty of sign of the hostile fire he is likely to face when answering questions in front of the House Judiciary Committee about a bungled federal gun sting.

Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), an influential senator on judicial issues who launched the initial probe into the "Fast and Furious" gun controversy, issued an early salvo Wednesday when he called for the resignation of Holder’s assistant attorney general, Lanny Breuer, who oversees all criminal matters at the embattled Department of Justice.

While there have been calls for resignations over the scandal, none have come from anyone with Grassley’s stature until now. In the Fast and Furious investigation, run by the Arizona office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, up to 2,000 firearms were purchased by “straw buyers” with the knowledge of federal agents. The guns weren’t tracked but were instead allowed into Mexico, in the unusual investigative practice of “gunwalking.” Many of the guns that federal agents let walk have been involved in homicides since.

Grassley, in a floor statement Wednesday, criticized Breuer for his “complete lack of judgment,” in failing to alert the Justice Department about Fast and Furious when he learned of it in 2010. Grassley also said Breuer gave “misleading” answers in earlier testimony. Breuer, he said, misled Congress about a DOJ letter earlier in 2011 that erroneously denied that gunwalking ever occurred.

Thursday will be Holder’s first testimony on Capitol since early November, when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s likely to be grilled mercilessly about when he first learned of the gunwalking probe, because documents turned over to congressional investigators included a memo dating back to July 2010 about it. Holder testified earlier that he had learned of it only in spring 2011.

The Fast and Furious probe has stirred the ire of many Second Amendment supporters, and that has inspired extra interest in the scandal. The National Rifle Association insists the entire case was not just a bungled investigation but was in essence a conspiracy by the Justice Department to ship weapons to Mexico intentionally, in an effort to blame U.S. gun laws for Mexican violence. The Obama administration had pointed to the involvement of U.S. guns in cartel shootings. “It was all a frame-up against gun owners and the Second Amendment,” says a letter from NRA president Wayne LaPierre, on a website launched by the NRA to push for Eric Holder’s ouster.