By Jamie Klatell - 10/07/11 11:48 PM EDT
Attorney General Eric Holder replied Friday to mounting accusations against him in a scathing letter to the congressional leaders who are investigating his involvement in the botched gun-tracking operation known as Fast and Furious.
Holder wrote in a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of three Congressional committees that he has been "truthful and accurate" about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms operation and that the rhetoric coming from Republican legislators has been "irresponsible and inflammatory."
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) alleged Wednesday that Holder's statements on the issue are “beginning to look more and more like a cover-up.”
In his letter, Holder said he had been publicly circumspect about Fast and Furious because the Justice Department's inspector general was in the middle of its own investigation.
"[T]he public discourse concerning these issues has become so base and so harmful to interests that I hope we all share that I must now address these issues notwithstanding the Inspector General's ongoing review," holder wrote.
"I cannot sit idly by as a Majority Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered 'accessories to murder.' Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms."
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have been investigating who gave the ultimate authorization for Fast and Furious.
In testimony May 3, Holder told Issa that the Fast and Furious operation had been conducted without his knowledge.
“I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks,” Holder said at the time. He later said he “probably” learned about the operation before Obama discussed it in a March 22 interview with Univision.
Both lawmakers have long complained that the DOJ is not being forthcoming with the documents that they’ve requested and subpoenaed.
"My testimony was truthful and accurate and I have been consistent on this point throughout," Holder wrote. "I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it."
Grassley's office responded to Holder's letter with a statement that accused the Justice Department of stalling and obfuscation.
"Instead of helping get to the bottom of the disastrous program, the Justice Department stonewalled Sen. Grassley’s investigation and denied him access to documents and key personnel," Grassley's spokeswoman Beth Levine said.
"The Attorney General’s denials of any personal knowledge will have to be tested against all the evidence as the investigation continues, just as the Department’s initial denials were."
The ATF launched Operation Fast and Furious in 2009 to try and track guns sold under its supervision to known and suspected straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels. But the agency failed to equip the weapons with proper surveillance, causing them to disappear into the hands of criminals.
The process of letting the guns “walk” is taboo within the ATF, because it increases the risk of violence at the hands of the suspected criminals. Late last year, two guns sold under the operation were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
"[T]here is no doubt that Operation Fast and Furious was fundamentally flawed," Holder wrote. "Regrettably, its effects will be felt for years to come as weapons that should have been interdicted but were not continue to show up at crime scenes in this country and in Mexico."
This story was updated at 10:00 p.m.