- Holder strikes back after a comment by a GOP member of the Oversight Committee
- "Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated," he says
- He rejects accusations that he knew details about a gun operation earlier than he testified
- Committee spokesman calls his denial "factually questionable (and) entirely self-serving"
Attorney General Eric Holder angrily responded Friday to Republican critics of his handling of a controversial gun enforcement operation, charging them with using "irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric."
"I simply cannot sit idly by as a (Republican) member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered "accessories to murder,'" Holder said in a letter to members of Congress.
"Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms," he said.
The bitter debate follows the release this week of Justice Department documents on Capitol Hill that prompted Republican critics to charge Holder knew about the now-discredited Fast and Furious gun operation before he previously claimed in testimony before the Oversight Committee.
Holder did not mention by name anyone other than Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa in his stinging rebuke of the charges that have been leveled at the attorney general.
Holder insisted, as his Justice Department aides have for several days, that he was not inconsistent in his testimony.
"My testimony was truthful and accurate," Holder said. "I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it. Prior to early 2011, I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation."
The tactics Holder referred to center on Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents allowing illegally purchased guns to "walk" from Arizona gun stores to Mexico. The ATF plan was to track the weapons to Mexican drug cartels. However, many of the guns were lost in the operation, and two of them ended up at the scene where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered.
Holder insists that when he learned of those tactics he stopped "uncontrolled crossing of guns across the border," and called for an inspector general investigation to get to the bottom of the matter.
Frederick Hill, a spokesman for the committee chaired by Issa, issued a statement in response to Holder's letter.
"If Attorney General Holder had said these things five months ago when Congress asked him about Operation Fast and Furious, it might have been more believable. At this point, however, it's hard to take at face value a defense that is factually questionable, entirely self-serving, and a still incomplete account of what senior Justice Department officials knew about gun walking," Hill said.
Holder's five-page letter included detailed explanations in response to various points raised by his critics.
He concluded by saying: "Until we move beyond the current political climate, where real solutions take a back seat to both political posturing and making headlines on cable news programs, and is deemed more important than actually solving our country's difficult challenges, nothing is going to change. I hope we can engage in a more responsible dialogue on this subject in the future."