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Attorney General Eric Holder is  sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, prior to testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the arms trafficking investigation called Operation Fast and Furious. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Attorney General Eric Holder is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, prior to testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the arms trafficking investigation called Operation Fast and Furious. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)  

Holder heading to House hot seat, Fast and Furious grilling on the way

Photo of Matthew Boyle
Matthew Boyle
Investigative Reporter

On Thursday morning, Attorney General Eric Holder will appear before the House Judiciary Committee and he’s set to get grilled over Operation Fast and Furious.

Fast and Furious was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program overseen by the Justice Department. The operation facilitated the sale of thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers. Straw purchasers are people who legally purchase guns in the United States with the known intention of illegally trafficking them into Mexico.

At least 300 people in Mexico were killed with Fast and Furious weapons, as was U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Holder first testified about Fast and Furious before the House Judiciary Committee on May 3, and then testified about it before the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 8. This is Holder’s third major appearance before a congressional hearing on the operation, and second before the House, which Republicans control.

During the May 3 hearing, Holder claimed he had first learned of Fast and Furious just a “few weeks” before his appearance. Holder made that statement twice, to House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, and to Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Chaffetz and South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy wrote to President Barack Obama about Holder’s claims that he learned of Fast and Furious only a few weeks before that May 3 hearing. Gowdy and Chaffetz asked Obama specifically about comments he made during a March 22 interview with Spanish-language television network Univision. Obama said neither he nor Holder authorized Fast and Furious.

Because March 22 is more than a “few weeks” before the May 3 hearing where Holder twice made the statement, Gowdy and Chaffetz asked Obama how he could’ve known about the operation before Holder claims he knew. It’s unclear if Obama ever responded to Gowdy and Chaffetz. (RELATED: Full Fast and Furious coverage)

Chaffetz criticized Holder’s testimony as “less than candid” during an interview with TheDC in early October.

Holder has since walked back that “few weeks” comment, amending it to more of a “couple months.”

“I did say a ‘few weeks,’” Holder said on November 8, responding to a question from Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I probably could’ve said ‘a couple of months.’ I didn’t think the term I said, ‘few weeks,’ was inaccurate based on what happened.”

On another front, Issa is expected to press Holder to fire people at the Justice Department. “Chairman Issa intends to press Attorney General Holder on the need to clean house at tomorrow’s hearing,” Issa spokesman Frederick Hill told TheDC on Wednesday.

It’s unclear who Issa thinks should be fired but his Senate counterpart, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, called for the resignation of Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer on the Senate floor on Wednesday.