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Source: Congress to issue "Fast and Furious" subpoenas

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 3:57 PM EDT, Tue October 11, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Holder promises to comply with subpoenas
  • Investigators to issue subpoenas relating to Operation Fast and Furious, a source says
  • GOP Rep. Darrell Issa says attorney general has blocked an investigation into the operation
  • Fast and Furious is a discredited gunrunning operation designed to track weapons to drug cartels

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional investigators intend to issue subpoenas seeking communications from several top Justice Department officials -- including Attorney General Eric Holder -- relating to the discredited "Fast and Furious" federal gunrunning operation, according to a source close to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The subpoenas also cover communications from Holder chief of staff Gary Grindler and Lanny Breuer, head of the department's criminal division, the source said.

Among other things, the subpoenas include a request for information regarding relevant Justice Department communications with the White House, as well as details about the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent last December, the source added.

"We have sent thousands of pages of documents up to the Hill," Holder told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "We will look at the subpoenas and undoubtedly comply with them, but (this) will not detract us from the important business that we have to do here at the Justice Department."

Operation Fast and Furious involved agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowing illegal sales of guns, believed to be destined for Mexican drug cartels, to "walk" from Phoenix gun stores into Mexico.

The idea was to track the sellers and purchasers of guns to Mexican cartels. But the program became mired in controversy after weapons found at Mexican and American murder scenes were traced back to the program. Mexican officials and critics in the United States called the program a failure, saying it exacerbated the longstanding problem of U.S. weapons getting into the hands of the violent Mexican cartels.

A GOP-led congressional investigation into the matter has become politically contentious, with administration and Capitol Hill leaders accusing each other of acting irresponsibly.

In a letter to Holder publicly released Monday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, accused the attorney general of actively obstructing Congress' oversight function and damaging his own credibility as a top national law enforcement officer.

"Numerous statements" made by Holder about Operation Fast and Furious have "been proven to be untrue," Issa said.

"The time for deflecting blame and obstructing our investigation is over," Issa wrote in the letter, which was dated Sunday. "The time has come for you to come clean to the American public about what you knew about Fast and Furious, when you knew it, and who is going to be held accountable for failing to shut down a program that has already had deadly consequences, and will likely cause more casualties for years to come."

Issa blasted Holder for "negligence and incompetence" on the issue, and for offering a "roving set of ever-changing explanations" designed primarily to "circle the wagons around (the Justice Department) and its political appointees."

The operation was the Justice Department's "most significant gun trafficking case," Issa said. "On your watch, it went spectacularly wrong. Whether you realize yet or not, you own Fast and Furious. It is your responsibility."

Holder testified before the Judiciary Committee in May that he had known about the Fast and Furious program for just a few weeks. Republicans insist recently released Justice Department documents show the attorney general actually knew about the program much earlier.

Holder and his aides continue to vehemently deny that charge.

The attorney general responded angrily Friday to GOP critics of his handling of the 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 rhetoric, Holder declared, "must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms."

Asked for a reaction to Issa's letter, DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Monday that "these recycled allegations continue to be baseless, no matter how many times they are repeated."

The Justice Department will cooperate with congressional investigations, but "what the American people deserve is less partisan showboating and more responsible solutions to stopping gun violence on the southwest border," the official said.

On Sunday, Issa said the Judiciary Committee has invited Holder to "come and clear the record."

"Clearly, he knew when he said he didn't know," Issa said. "Now the question is what did he know and how is he going to explain why he gave that answer."

CNN's Alan Silverleib, Brian Todd, and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report .

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