WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder wants a House panel to drop plans to try to hold him in contempt of Congress, and the panel’s chairman wants more Justice Department documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious, a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona.
Holder and Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, scheduled a private face-to-face meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday in an effort to resolve their dispute over the investigation of Fast and Furious by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Issa chairs. The committee was scheduled to vote Wednesday on a contempt citation against the attorney general for failing to turn over subpoenaed documents.
Holder has said he is prepared to turn over material detailing how the department arrived at the conclusion that federal agents engaged in a risky tactic called gun-walking. It resulted in hundreds of weapons purchased at gun shops in Arizona ending up in Mexico, many of them at crime scenes. Initially, the department denied that gun-walking had taken place.
Relying on the tactic, federal agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives abandoned their usual practice of intercepting all weapons they believed to be illicitly purchased. Instead, the goal of gun-walking was to track such weapons to high-level arms traffickers, who had long eluded prosecution, and to dismantle their networks.
Gun-walking has long been barred by Justice Department policy, but federal agents in Arizona experimented with it in at least two investigations during the George W. Bush administration before Fast and Furious. These experiments came as the department was under widespread criticism that the old policy of arresting every suspected low-level straw purchaser was still allowing tens of thousands of guns to reach Mexico. A straw purchaser is an illicit buyer of guns for others.
The agents in Arizona lost track of many of the weapons in Operation Fast and Furious. Two of the guns that “walked” in the operation were found at the scene of the slaying of U.S. border agent Brian Terry.
Issa’s committee has been investigating Fast and Furious for the past year and a half. Holder says the Justice Department has already turned over 7,600 pages of documents.
Issa said he was willing to postpone Wednesday’s contempt vote if the attorney general first provided the documents the panel still seeks.
In addition to Holder and Issa, the participants in the meeting will be Deputy Attorney General James Cole; Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on Issa’s committee.