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GOP Smells Blood, Bores In on Eric Holder

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. John Cornyn (above) called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign at the Senate Judiciary hearing today.

A top Senate Republican called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign today, even as Holder said he was ready to make major concessions to Republicans investigating “Fast and Furious,” a botched gun-smuggling operation.

Holder, saying he wanted to avoid an “impending constitutional crisis,” told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I am prepared to make compromises,” but “I’ve got to have a willing partner.”

However, Republicans in both chambers were in no mood to give quarter.

To start, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) called on Holder to resign at the Senate Judiciary hearing.

Citing the Fast and Furious scandal and recent national security leaks, Cornyn said, “It’s more with sorrow than with anger that I would say that you leave me no alternative then to join those that call upon you to resign your office.”

Holder pushed back, saying a long statement by Cornyn of Holder’s faults was “breathtaking in its inaccuracy” and that “I don’t have any intention of resigning.” Holder said he’d done far more to stop the controversial tactics at issue in Fast and Furious than officials in the George W. Bush administration had.

The remarks came one day after House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) scheduled a committee vote on holding Holder in contempt of Congress and established a clear universe of documents that Justice could provide to avoid that vote.

And the House’s top Republican, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), said he would not meet with Holder until the attorney general gives in to Issa’s demands.

“The Speaker will meet with the attorney general when the attorney general complies with the reasonable, specific requests in the May 18 letter from House leaders and Chairman Issa,” a Boehner spokesman said.

Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also provided new information about six wiretap applications that have become the latest point of dispute between Holder and Congressional Republicans who are investigating Fast and Furious.

Grassley said he had reviewed the applications, which are under court seal and have not been made public, and agreed with Issa, who said they showed top Justice officials had reviewed descriptions of controversial tactics at the heart of the investigation.

Holder and Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) have both said they reviewed the applications and disagree.

In Fast and Furious, agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed assault guns to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels.

The tactic, which was intended to allow agents to track criminal networks by finding the guns at crime scenes, has been roundly condemned after two guns that were part of the operation were found at Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder scene.

After initially denying the tactic was ever used, the Justice Department conceded it was but insisted senior officials were not aware of its use.

Issa has pointed to the wiretap applications as evidence that the tactics were approved by senior Justice officials in Washington, D.C., saying the applications included detailed descriptions of the tactics.

Grassley said Kenneth Melson, the former ATF head who was reassigned as the Fast and Furious scandal heated up, told House Republicans he was “alarmed” when he first read the applications in March 2011 and immediately told top Justice officials they should back off the public denials the department had issued.

But it wasn’t until December 2011 when the Justice Department did concede the tactics were used, rescinding a letter sent to Grassley and providing documents that showed how the letter was crafted.

Issa is seeking internal Justice documents from after the letter was sent to Grassley denying the tactic was used.

Holder said today that although there is a “tradition” that Justice does not release internal, deliberative documents, he is willing to consider doing so if he is able to sit down with Republicans to discuss a deal.

Issa’s spokesman, though, wasn’t interested.

“Discussions about Fast and Furious have been ongoing for nearly a year and a half. The Justice Department, however, did not express interest in reaching a workable solution until after the committee announced it had obtained detailed wiretap applications from a source and scheduled a vote on contempt. The Justice Department needs to demonstrate its interest in doing more than reciting old talking points,” said Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Issa.

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