By Joshua Altman - 11/08/11 04:04 PM EST
A question from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) at Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary committee hearing led to a contentious exchange with Attorney General Eric Holder who objected to being asked about how an ATF whistleblower's name had been leaked to the press.
Holder was testifying before lawmakers on the department's botched Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation that sought to trace weapons sold to straw purchasers back to Mexican drug cartels.
Holder took issue with a question from Grassley on why a document naming a whistleblower had not been provided to Congress but was instead leaked to the press.
"We had a private conversation. You sent me a handwritten note which I took very seriously. You and I have worked together on a variety of things, I think I have a good relationship with you,” said Holder in response.
“I called you to try to indicate to you that I had taken that matter seriously, that action had been taken," he added. "In a different time in Washington, I'm not sure that what you just said would have been shared with everyone here. But so be it, its a different time I suppose, But in response to your question ...”
Grassley interrupted Holder and argued that if the attorney general wanted to avoid this question at the public hearing, Holder's office should have fully disclosed the information Grassley requested about the leak and the subsequent investigations to his staff prior to Tuesday morning.
“You understand, I told you over the phone conversation if you want me not to ask this question, I said have your staff inform my staff, because I work closely with my staff and, and give the details so that I would know this was an inappropriate question to ask,” the senator said.
Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) stopped Grassley and permitted Holder a short response.
“With regard to the question, the matter is under investigation, there were a couple of leaks and those leaks are under investigation by the inspector general, by the office of professional responsibility,” said Holder. “I'm not in a position to comment on ongoing investigations,” he added.
This story was updated at 4:22 p.m.