- "We are losing the battle to stop the flow of illegal guns to Mexico," Holder says
- Attorney general is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee
- In prepared remarks, he says "gun-walking" tactics "must never happen again"
Attorney General Eric Holder will testify Tuesday that the controversial tactic that allowed illegal guns to be smuggled to Mexico "should never have happened, and it must never happen again."
In excerpts from his planned opening testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder hits hard at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives practice that has tainted his tenure at the Justice Department, and led to some Republican calls for him to resign.
"I want to be clear: Any instance of so-called 'gun walking' is unacceptable," Holder will say, according to the excerpts. "This operation was flawed in concept, as well as in execution."
The attorney general then acknowledges in his prepared remarks what critics have been saying about the long-term consequences of "gun walking."
"Unfortunately we will feel its effects for years to come as guns that were lost during this operation continue to show up at crime scenes both here and in Mexico," Holder will say. "We are losing the battle to stop the flow of illegal guns to Mexico."
Holder defends his own actions, reminding the panel he called for the inspector general to examine the so-called Operation Fast and Furious. That report may be concluded before the end of the year.
Holder does not lay blame for the flawed operation, although his assistant attorney general, Lanny Breuer, last week expressed "regret" for his failure to alert Holder about the operation.
Holder says he, too, wants to know why and how firearms that should have been under surveillance could wind up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
The attorney general says what he needs from Congress is strengthening the authority of the ATF to detect and disrupt illegal gun trafficking. He urges full funding for the ATF to combat gun-running.
Then Holder takes what appears to be a swipe at his Republican critics.
"I am determined to ensure that our shared concerns about Operation Fast and Furious lead to more than headline-grabbing Washington 'gotcha' games and cynical political point scoring," Holder will conclude.
That comment is not likely to go over well with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who is expected to lead the charge in questioning Holder closely about who was informed, and when, about the flawed operation. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also is prepared to pounce on the attorney general for his alleged mishandling of the operation.
Holder has the strong support of fellow Democrat Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, chairman of the committee, who will control the hearing. Leahy on Monday tried to lower the heat on Holder by blaming the Bush administration for first allowing the "gun-walking" tactic.
In a letter to the Justice Department inspector general, Leahy asked whether the current investigation also will cover the Bush-era supervision of the ATF.
Leahy said that during another operation, called Wide Receiver, in 2006, "hundreds of weapons apparently moved beyond the custody and control of the ATF and possibly into Mexico and Arizona." Leahy also said then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey may have been briefed in the case in 2007.
Holder faces what is likely to be a much more hostile environment next month when he testifies before a House panel where Republican Darrell Issa, R-California, will wield the gavel and control the questioning.