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House GOP threatens to hold Holder in contempt

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — House Republicans investigating the Fast and Furious operation threatened Thursday to seek a contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., saying his Department of Justice has refused to turn over key documents in the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms gun-tracking investigation and that the Obama administration is trying to hide its involvement in the program that allowed hundreds of U.S. weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told Holder in a Capitol Hill hearing that the Justice Department has provided only 6,400 pages of documents out of some 93,000 that they still want — all a sign to him and his GOP colleagues that Holder and top Justice officials in Washington are trying to suppress evidence that they knew about the gun-walking tactics and may have approved Fast and Furious.

“All these people should be ashamed that they didn’t do as good a job as they should have,” Issa said, strongly implying that Justice officials were deeply involved in overseeing Fast and Furious that allowed illegal gun purchases in Arizona in the hope of tracking the weapons to cartel leaders. Instead, some 1,700 guns were lost.

But Holder, testifying for the sixth time about Fast and Furious, insisted that his department is trying to cooperate with the congressional investigation. He said they have responded to three dozen letters from members of Congress and have “facilitated numerous witness interviews.” He added, “This has been a significant undertaking for department employees and our efforts in this regard remain ongoing.”

The Republican committee members indicated they are leaning toward a contempt citation based on beliefs that the Justice Department had “much greater knowledge of, and involvement in, Fast and Furious than it has previously acknowledged.” They said committee interviews, documents and emails show that in one instance, then-ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson told Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer that the ATF wanted to launch a “different approach” for stopping U.S. guns from getting into Mexico, and that Breuer considered it a “terrific idea.”

But now, the Republicans said in a new report into Fast and Furious, the “ATF blames Main Justice for encouraging Fast and Furious (and) the Justice Department blames ATF and the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office for the use of misguided tactics.”

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