By Alexis Bergelt
A group of House members Tuesday demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder step down for his handling of the controversial Operation Fast and Furious.
Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, and Trent Franks, R-Glendale, joined 14 other lawmakers claiming that Holder has not been forthcoming with information on the botched "gun-walking" operation.
"Attorney General Holder's refusal to take responsibility for the actions of his department is inexcusable," said Gosar in a statement. He said nearly 40 House members are also calling for Holder to resign.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, however, a Justice Department official said the attorney general "acted responsibly and took quick steps to ensure accountability when concerns were raised about these inappropriate tactics." Those steps included requesting an investigation by the inspector general and letting department officials know that gun-walking operations would not be tolerated.
The statement called for "less partisan showboating" over the issue, a call echoed Wednesday by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who defended Holder.
"The Republicans are desperately trying to create a scandal, but the real scandal is one the Republicans would rather ignore: The flow to Mexico of guns illegally purchased in the United States," she said.
Operation Fast and Furious was a gun-trafficking investigation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives out of its Phoenix office. The operation let small-time criminal gun-buyers go, hoping to trace the weapons to larger gun-running operations.
Instead, more than 2,000 guns and 10,000 or more rounds of ammunition "walked" out of agents' sight, according to congressional testimony in a series of hearings this year.
Few of those guns have been recovered and some have been found at crime scenes in both the U.S. and Mexico, including a gun found in December at the scene of the shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
During three hours of testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, however, Holder said the operation was flawed in concept and execution and "should never have happened."
He downplayed a Feb. 4 letter to the committee in which the department denied letting guns walk, and said his department would provide lawmakers relevant information. But he stopped short last week of promising full release of documents in the case.
In August, Holder announced that U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke had resigned and acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson was reassigned. Both Gosar and Franks said Tuesday that they think those men were scapegoats.
Members at Tuesday's event called Holder "incompetent" and "unfit" as attorney general. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., said she was "incensed" that Holder has not given what she believes is the whole truth on the matter while under oath.
"It's time for Attorney General Holder to come clean with what he knew and when, and then he has to go," Black said in her statement.
Franks, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the administration has failed to hold someone accountable for the operation and has not provided all the information the Justice Department has.
"This administration promised to be one of the most transparent administrations that would we would ever see," Franks said. "Yet I have heard this attorney general come in and say things that make me believe that he is either the least transparent or most evasive attorney general we've ever had."