By Martin Gould and Ashley Martella
Attorney General Eric Holder was "not believable" when he testified about the deadly failure of the gunrunning scheme Operation Fast and Furious before a House committee, Rep. Ted Poe tells Newsmax.TV.
"He dodged the questions," the Texas Republican said of Holder's testimony Thursday. "I don't believe he was as candid as I was hoping he would be on the difficult questions."
But Poe said a bid to impeach Holder should wait until after Congress gets to the bottom of what went wrong with Operation Fast and Furious.
Though impeachment might occur down the road, Republicans should focus first on getting to the truth, Poe said during the exclusive interview with Newsmax after the House Judiciary Committee hearing.
During the hearing, Poe and other committee members grilled Holder on how much he knew about the scheme in which hundreds of semi-automatic weapons deliberately were allowed to fall into the hands of violent Mexican drug cartels. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were supposed to track the guns, which the ATF expected to lead them to cartel leaders.
However, virtually all the weapons went missing and have been involved in hundreds of crimes in the United States and south of the border, including the murders of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry and immigration officer Jaime Zapata.
During the hearing Thursday, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., made it clear that impeachment was an option if Holder failed to "clean up this mess" quickly.
Poe said, "I think that is a possibility down the road. I don't know that that's going to happen anytime soon.
"We still want to get the information from the Justice Department; they've been stonewalling, giving us the information they have in their files and the memos -- those that were read and those that were not read -- we want to get that information first. That's always a possibility but not any time soon.
Poe unequivocally told Newsmax that he does not believe Holder told the whole truth before the House committee.
"For the attorney general to come in here at this time and say, "Well, we weren't really aware of all this stuff that was going on,' is just not believable."
Poe laughed when asked about Holder's claim that nobody in his department has lied throughout the Fast and Furious debacle. "Well, there are surely a lot of ignorant people over in the Justice Department if they didn't lie about it," he said.
"They obviously knew that this was going on -- someone did and I think that he did. The idea that none of these people that worked for him misled or lied to Congress is not believable in itself.
"And it's interesting, the Justice Department now has taken a half-dozen of these people that are in the Justice Department and apparently were involved in Fast and Furious and moved them somewhere else. Somebody got promoted. Why are they moving those people around if all of a sudden they are saying they didn't have anything to do with it?"
More than 50 GOP congressmen and senators have called on the attorney general to quit. Poe said Holder should go, not because he may have lied to Congress, but because he was in charge when the operation was launched.
"The buck stops with him," Poe insisted.
"This whole situation happened under his watch. If he didn't know about it, he should have. I personally think that he did know about it, and I think he should resign not so much for what he has or has not said to Congress but because he is in charge of this operation."
And he denied that Republicans are going after Holder for partisan reasons. "It's not about politics; it's about people dying," he said, noting that Mexican authorities estimate that 200 deaths south of the border can be linked directly to Fast and Furious weapons.
And even Holder has acknowledged that many more deaths will result from Fast and Furious in the years to come.
"That's another tragedy," Poe said.
"It's a situation where we just want to get to the truth and the politics is on the side. If anyone's doing anything political, it's the Justice Department saying, "Don't bother us, we've got this under control.'"
The congressman gave weight to suggestions that the whole operation was really a "ruse" to bring in tighter gun control regulations. "The goal was to get weapons to Mexico and then come back and say "look, we want to make it harder to sell guns in the United States -- long guns, rifles -- and make the operation such that we want new regulations on gun dealers,' " he said.
"Rather than blame the Justice Department for allowing people to get killed in Mexico and losing these guns -- over 1,400 of these guns have not been accounted for -- rather than assume responsibility and blame for that, they want to say "It's the gun dealers' fault. It's not our fault, it's the gun dealers.' So, yes, this was a ruse to go after more gun control."
Congressional investigators will continue to pursue Holder to persuade him to provide more answers. "We will keep pressing this issue because it is so important for the American people to know that, in my opinion, the Justice Department and the ATF had gone rogue.
"The American people don't like what has occurred for many reasons, and one reason, of course, is that we should not be in the gun smuggling business and arming the enemy of Mexico and the enemy of the United States."