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After weeks of knife sharpening, Republican lawmakers grilled Attorney General Eric Holder at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, inquiring into a growing backlog of complaints related to Operation Fast and Furious and other pet issues. 

The main order of business was to force concessions from Holder for not holding Justice Department subordinates accountable for the scandal, which involved the controversial practice of gun-walking arms across the Mexican border. The person some Republicans are out to get is Holder's close aide and criminal division head Lanny Breuer, who Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called to resign on Wednesday. Leading the charge during today's House hearing was Rep. Darrel Issa, who skewered Holder for not terminating "many people involved" with the operation. "Mr. Attorney General, the blame must go to your desk," Issa said.  Holder conceded that he is "ultimately responsible" but promised he's been working to get to the bottom of what went wrong:

Part of the reason Breuer is subject to resignation calls is because he admitted to a mistake in not notifying Holder about a past gun-walking operation called Wide Receiver, which he had knowledge about since April 2010. Grassley has said that in addition to that, "Breuer gave misleading answers when ... asked whether Breuer had reviewed a Justice Department letter to Congress last February that said ATF makes every effort to intercept weapons that have been purchased illegally — an assertion that was incorrect in both Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious." 

Because Congress was misled, Rep. James Sensenbrenner engaged in a heated and somewhat philosophical discussion with Holder over the difference between misleading and lying. 

“Tell me what's the difference between lying and misleading Congress, in this context?” the congressman said. 

 “Well, if you want to have this legal conversation, it all has to do with your state of mind and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that would be considered perjury or a lie," Holder said. "The information that was provided by the February 4th letter was gleaned by the people who drafted the letter after they interacted with people who they thought were in the best position to have the information.”

Sensenbrenner went on to float the idea that Holder's resignation is the only way to get the gun-walking scandal behind the Justice Department. “There is really no responsibility within the Justice Department,” Sensenbrenner said. “The thing is, if we don’t get to the bottom of this — and that requires your assistance on that — there is only alternative that Congress has and it is called impeachment, where our subpoena powers are plenary and there can‘t be any type of legal immunity or privilege that can be asserted on that.”

Maintaining the line that he acted diligently with the information that he had, Holder went on the defensive warning of the dangers of a House investigation turning into a circus. "We cannot afford to allow the tragic mistakes of 'Operation Fast and Furious' to become a political sideshow or a series of media opportunities," he said. "Instead, we must move forward and recommit ourselves to our shared public safety obligations." 

It was a tough hearing, but it was't only limited to Operation Fast and Furious. Another pet project of some Republicans is to push the recusal of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in her upcoming ruling on President Obama's health care reform law. To do that, Republicans are trying to demonstrate that Kagan played a role in defending Obama's health care law as his solicitor general. According to Politico, "House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith has asked the Justice Department to provide meeting schedules, documents and access to employees for interviews to determine if Kagan played a role in shaping the defense of the law before she was nominated to the Supreme Court." But Holder wasn't budging, suggeting that the parties litigating against the health care law raise these questions not House Republicans. 

“It is our view that, in terms of trying to determine the answers to questions that you have with regard to the recusal question, those are questions best brought by those involved in the context of the litigation,” Holder said. Personally, Holder said he did not remember instances in which Kagan participated in the bill's legal defense. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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