Cornyn: Holder should resign in wake of Fast and Furious probe

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Rand Paul takes victory lap on GOP health bill Senators push Trump on defense deals with India MORE called on Eric HolderEric H. HolderOvernight Tech: Senate moving to kill FCC's internet privacy rules | Bill Gates pushes for foreign aid | Verizon, AT&T pull Google ads | Q&A with IBM's VP for cyber threat intel Uber leadership sticking by CEO Top Dems prep for future while out of the spotlight MORE to resign Tuesday as Republicans raised the pressure on the attorney general to avoid a contempt vote by providing documents about the Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.

Cornyn (Texas), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), told Holder it’s time for new leadership at the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“It is more with sorrow than anger that I would say that you leave me no alternative but to join those who call upon you to resign your office,” Cornyn said at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The American people deserve better; they deserve an attorney general who is accountable and independent; they deserve an attorney general who puts justice before politics,” he said. “And it’s my sincere hope that President Obama will replace you with someone who’s up to that challenge.”

Cornyn’s remarks came the day after House Republicans scheduled a vote for June 20 on whether to place Holder in contempt of Congress. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has battled Holder for months over a subpoena he issued last October as part of his 15-month investigation of Fast and Furious.

Issa and other top Republicans argue the attorney general is withholding documents and impeding a congressional investigation.

But on Tuesday, Holder repeatedly stressed his desire to meet with Republican leaders to reach an agreement on what documents the DOJ can provide without jeopardizing prosecutions and investigations. 

“I want to make it very clear that I myself am offering to sit down with the Speaker, with the chairman, with you, whoever, to try to work our way through this in an attempt to avoid a constitutional crisis and come up with ways — creative ways, perhaps — in which we can make this material available,” Holder said.

“But I’ve got to have a willing partner. I have extended my hand, and I’m waiting to hear back.”

Holder’s comments were made to Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Friends, foes spar in fight on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (R-Iowa), who launched Congress’s investigation into Fast and Furious last year after federal officials came to him with evidence that the overseeing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had allowed guns to “walk” into the hands of criminals.

Senate Republican leaders, while clearly frustrated with Holder, stopped short of calling for his resignation.

“We certainly need to have an investigation of what has happened, and I think John Cornyn speaks for a lot of us as to the frustration we feel about … a whole litany of problems coming out of the Justice Department,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThe Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care GOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE (R-Ky.), adding that he’s “listening carefully” to what his colleagues are saying.

“I think we’re all unhappy with the performance of the attorney general.”

The hedged statement from McConnell was another sign that some Republicans are hesitant to escalate the confrontation with Holder over Fast and Furious.

Republicans and Holder seem eager to reach a deal before next Wednesday’s contempt vote, but any compromise would likely require concessions from both sides.

“If the attorney general decides to produce these subpoenaed documents, I am confident we can reach agreement on other materials and render the process of contempt unnecessary,” Issa said in a statement.

And after Tuesday’s hearing, Grassley said he’s also holding out hope for an agreement.

“Attorney General Holder sounded willing to negotiate over releasing documents. That’s fine if the offer isn’t hollow,” Grassley said. “We’ve been talking for a year and a half. A show of good faith would be to produce the documents in question.” 

Pressure on Holder has been building in the House, where Rep. Paul GosarPaul GosarHouse votes to begin debate on healthcare bill; six Republicans defect Live coverage: House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill GOP lawmakers leave Trump White House with no deal MORE (R-Ariz.) has garnered the support of 114 House Republicans for a resolution expressing no confidence in Holder’s ability to carry out his responsibilities as a result of the DOJ’s authorization of “gun walking” tactics in Fast and Furious.

The DOJ and the White House have chalked the Republican furor up to “politics” and accused the party of playing “political games.”

On Tuesday, following Holder’s appearance before the Senate, White House spokesman Josh Earnest pointed reporters to comments made by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) to The Hill in March about the political nature of the Fast and Furious debate.

“All of this, I think, illustrates something that maybe you do find newsworthy, which is, I do happen to agree with Congressman Steve King, which is, his observation that this is nothing more than politics,” Earnest said. “And I think that there’s nothing in today’s news or today’s hearing that would prove Congressman King wrong.”

Asked in March about Gosar’s no-confidence measure, King told The Hill: “I think leadership doesn’t want to be seen as using the gavels here for political purposes. I think there’s a bit of an aversion to that. Me? I have no reservations about that. This is politics.”

Alexander Bolton contributed to this report.