GOP lawmaker: AG Holder could be impeached over gun-tracking program

A senior GOP lawmaker said Thursday that Attorney General Eric Holder could be impeached over botched gun-tracking operation Fast and Furious.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) suggested at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that Congress may impeach Holder if it does not get satisfactory answers about inaccurate statements and information the Department of Justice provided on the operation.

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"If we don't get to the bottom of this — and that requires your assistance on that — there is only one alternative that Congress has, and it's called impeachment," Sensenbrenner said. "And I don't want to go this far, but if we keep on getting pushed down the road and the can keeps on getting kicked and we don't get closure to this, what is Congress to do so that we don't spend all of our time in court arguing privilege, which is not a way to get at the truth?"

Sensenbrenner, a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was referring to a letter DOJ wrote to Congress that denied any agency involvement in “walking” guns — letting weapons fall into the hands of suspected criminals. That letter has since been withdrawn because of its inaccurate statements.

Sensenbrenner also mentioned Holder’s testimony before the committee in May, when the attorney general said he learned about Fast and Furious several weeks before the hearing. Holder said last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he learned about the tactics employed in Fast and Furious soon after it became news in the public in February.

Holder, testifying before the committee Thursday, said that no one in the department had lied to Congress or intentionally misled lawmakers.

“We now know that some information provided by those supervisors was inaccurate,” he said in his opening remarks.

“I understand that, in subsequent interviews with congressional investigators, these supervisors have stated that they did not know — at the time — that information provided in a letter to congressional leaders earlier this year was inaccurate."

In the lead-up to Thursday's hearing, Republicans launched a new barrage of attacks against Holder and the Obama administration over Fast and Furious. Dozens of GOP lawmakers have called for the attorney general's resignation over the past several months. But the impeachment suggestion was the strongest shot yet. 

In order to remove Holder from President Obama's Cabinet, the House would have to vote on articles of impeachment and then the Senate would hold an impeachment hearing, followed by a vote on his removal.

Holder defended DOJ's actions and blasted Republicans for trying to “score political points.”

He called the tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious “flawed” and “unacceptable.” He also pointed to recent changes in training and oversight measures taken by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which headed the failed operation, to ensure it never happens again.

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The attorney general stressed that the mistakes made under Fast and Furious, which oversaw the sale of thousands of weapons to known and suspected straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels in an effort to track and dismantle gun-trafficking routes, must not detract from the larger goal of stopping the flow of weapons south of the border.

He has been joined by congressional Democrats in his push to use the issue of Fast and Furious to highlight the weaknesses within the ATF, including the agency’s lack of a confirmed director and the lack of a law requiring gun dealers in the Southwest to report multiple purchases of long guns. 

Republicans contend that this push by administration officials and Democrats on Capitol Hill is an effort to distract from the failings of Fast and Furious and skirt responsibility, which the GOP hammered away at this week.

On Thursday the Republican National Committee (RNC) began promoting a video it made to highlight the operation’s mistakes. And the upper chamber’s lead investigator, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), called for the resignation of Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer over allegations that he lied to Congress.

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) unveiled a new section of the panel’s website devoted entirely to his investigation of the failed operation.

Holder on Thursday decried these as attempts to “score political points,” saying that they lacked substantive arguments toward reforming a broken system governing the flow of illegal guns.

“We cannot afford to allow the tragic mistakes of Operation Fast and Furious to become a political sideshow or a series of media opportunities,” he said. “Instead, we must move forward and recommit ourselves to our shared public safety obligations.

“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.”