WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday he has "no intention" of stepping down, despite a top Senate Republican's demand that he resign for "refusing to perform the duties of your office."
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) trashed Holder's record at the Justice Department and specifically took aim at the attorney general's reluctance to hand over documents relating to what is known as the agency's botched Operation Fast and Furious. This sting operation allowed weapons from the United States to pass into the hands of suspected gun smugglers in an effort to trace them to Mexican drug cartels.
The topic has been the subject of relentless attacks by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who on Monday vowed to hold Holder in contempt of Congress if he doesn't provide more materials to its members. The White House and congressional Democrats maintain that Issa is raising the issue solely for political reasons.
Holder appeared before Tuesday's Senate panel to testify generally about the department's operations. But, as expected, several Republicans redirected attention to the Fast and Furious ordeal.
"You still resist coming clean about what you knew and when you knew it with regard to Operation Fast and Furious," Cornyn charged. "You won’t cooperate with a legitimate congressional investigation, and you won’t hold anyone, including yourself, accountable. Your department blocks states from implementing attempts to combat voter fraud. In short, you’ve violated the public trust, in my view, by failing and refusing to perform the duties of your office."
"So, Mr. Attorney General, it's more with sorrow than anger that I would say you leave me with no alternative but to join those who call upon you to resign your office," Cornyn said.
Holder responded that Cornyn's charges were just, well, wrong.
"Yeah, with all due respect, senator, there is so much that's factually wrong with the premises that you started your statement with," Holder said. "It's almost breathtaking in its inaccuracy, but I will simply leave it at that."
In terms of GOP allegations that he hasn't been forthcoming, Holder noted that Tuesday's appearance marked the ninth time he has testified before Congress on Operation Fast and Furious. Holder said he was the one who ended "the misguided tactics" in that operation and who tapped an inspector general to investigate any wrongdoing. His staff has also provided Congress with more than 7,600 documents, in 46 separate installments, relating to the issue.
"So I don't have any intention of resigning," Holder told Cornyn. "I heard the White House press officer say yesterday that the president has absolute confidence in me. I don't have any reason to believe that that, in fact, is not the case."
Holder highlighted that Republicans have not responded to requests to meet for discussion of what other materials he might be able to provide, which leads him to believe that Republicans are more interested in politicizing the issue than in resolving it. Some documents are off-limits for confidentiality reasons.
"It is the thing that I think turns people off about Washington. While we have very serious problems, we're still involved in this political gamesmanship," Holder said.
The demand by Cornyn, who is also the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, for Holder's resignation was not exactly embraced by other GOP leaders.
During a Tuesday afternoon gathering with reporters, Cornyn again made the case that Holder needed to go. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who joined Cornyn at the event, ducked questions about whether he agreed with his colleague.
"Well, we certainly need to have an investigation of what has happened, and I think John Cornyn speaks for a lot of us as to the frustration we feel about not only the national security leaks [but also] the fast and furious matter," McConnell said when asked if he agreed with Cornyn's call. "There's been a whole litany of problems coming out of the Justice Department."
Pressed again on the issue, McConnell still avoided answering the question.
"I'm listening carefully to what my colleagues are saying," he said. "We're all unhappy with the performance of the attorney general. I suspect that a number of people on the other side of the aisle who have similar concerns will have to see how they respond to the request that a lot of people are making, including prominent Democrats, that they be more forthcoming about all of these problems that have been uncovered."
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