“The information in that letter was inaccurate. That letter could have been better crafted,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee. Blaming the mistake on bad information supplied by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix, Holder said: “That’s something I regret.”
Under gentler questioning from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman, Holder also acknowledged the imprecision of his May 3 testimony. At that hearing, he said he “probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”
On Tuesday, Holder amended his recollection, saying that he had actually learned about the program at the beginning of this year. “I should probably have said a couple of months,” said Holder, who defended his overall handling of the controversy as “responsible” and made it clear that he has no plans to resign, as some Republicans have urged.
It was unclear whether the attorney general’s partial mea culpa will ease concerns over his handling of the gun-trafficking operation that is under investigation by Republican lawmakers and the Justice Department’s inspector general. Fast and Furious, which began in 2009, allowed small-time straw purchasers to pass firearms to middlemen, who trafficked the guns to Mexico. Anger over the tactics, which resulted in more than 2,000 illegally purchased firearms hitting the streets, has led to the reassignment of ATF’s former acting director and others and the resignation of Arizona’s U.S. attorney.
Republicans are pushing to learn whether senior Justice officials were aware of the details of Fast and Furious, and they have questioned whether Holder was truthful in his May 3 testimony. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who has led the probe in the Senate, said Tuesday that the department had lied to Congress in its Feb. 4 letter and that Holder “did a lot of dodging and weaving” in his testimony on Tuesday.
Democrats defended Holder and suggested that he had helped put the controversy behind him.
“The American people should not lose sight of the big picture and the job the Justice Department is doing to keep us safe and secure,” Leahy said, citing the recent disruption of an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington and last week’s charges against four Georgia men accused of scheming to carry out an attack with explosives and a deadly toxin.