POLITICS

Eric Holder held in contempt over Fast and Furious documents

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Republicans asserted their right to obtain documents needed for an investigation of Operation Fast and Furious - focusing on 10 months in 2011 after the Obama administration initially denied guns were allowed to "walk" from Arizona to Mexico.

By year's end, the administration acknowledged the assertion was wrong. President Barack Obama asserted a broad form of executive privilege, a legal position designed to keep executive branch documents from being disclosed.

The assertion ensures that documents will not be turned over any time soon, unless a deal is reached between the administration and congressional Republicans. In the debate, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said the contempt motions were "Fast and foolish, fast and fake." Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., took the opposite view, arguing, "A man died serving his country, and we have a right to know what the federal government's hand was in that."

For the past year and a half, some Republicans have promoted the idea that Holder and other top-level officials at the Justice Department knew federal agents in Operation Fast and Furious had engaged in gun-walking.

Two of Holder's emails and one from Deputy Attorney General James Cole in early 2011 appear to show that they hadn't known about gun-walking but were determined to find out whether the allegations were true.

"We need answers on this," Holder wrote. "Not defensive BS. Real answers."

The Justice Department showed the selected emails on Tuesday to Republican and Democratic staffers of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, in an effort to ward off the criminal contempt vote against the attorney general.

The full contents of the emails were described to The Associated Press by two people who have seen them. Both people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about them publicly. In Operation Fast and Furious, agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives abandoned the agency's usual practice of intercepting all weapons they believed to be illicitly purchased.

Instead, the goal of "gun-walking" was to track such weapons to high-level arms traffickers who had eluded prosecution and to dismantle their networks.

Gun-walking long has been barred by Justice Department policy, but federal agents in Arizona experimented with it in at least two investigations during the George W. Bush administration before Operation Fast and Furious. The agents in Arizona lost track of several hundred weapons in that operation.

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