Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday on Operation Fast and Furious, saying many of the 2,000 firearms lost in the failed gun-tracking program will show up at crime scenes along both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border "for years to come."
Republican members repeated demands for the resignation of Holder and other key Justice Department personnel, calling Holder's resignation and for "heads to roll" in the department's top tier, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"Why haven't you terminated the people involved?" demanded Rep. Darrell Issa, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and who helped spearhead the congressional investigation into Fast and Furious for nearly a year.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said some political appointees in the department should be fired immediately and asked Holder when he would "clean up this mess."
"If you don't get to the bottom of this," Sensenbrenner said, the only other option might be "impeachment."
In Operation Fast and Furious, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents allowed weapons to be illegally bought and circulated on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Two weapons turned up after a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in southern Arizona a year ago, and many others reportedly were used in crimes in Mexico.
"Unfortunately, in the pursuit of that laudable goal, unacceptable tactics were adopted as a part of Operation Fast and Furious," Holder said in his opening remarks.
Allowing guns to "walk" into Mexico "is wholly unacceptable," Holder said. "The use of this misguided tactic is inexcusable. And it must never happen again."
"It is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come," Holder said. "Guns lost during this operation will continue to show up at crime scenes on both sides of the border."
Holder maintains he didn't know about the operation until months after Border Patrol agent Brian Terry's death last December, and he since requested a Justice Department inspector general's investigation and ordered his employees never to open similar operations.
Republicans have said he should have known earlier about the operation and if he didn't he may be "incompetent" to remain attorney general, the Times said. Some Republican lawmakers suggested Holder may have approved or at least condoned the gun-walking tactics under Fast and Furious.
As the department works to avoid losses and mistakes in the future, Holder said, "it is unfortunate that some have used inflammatory and inappropriate rhetoric about one particular tragedy that occurred near the southwest border in an effort to score political points."
He urged lawmakers not to allow the mistakes of the operation "to become a political sideshow or a series of media opportunities. Instead, we must move forward and recommit ourselves to our shared public safety obligations."
Questioned by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Holder said he didn't speak with President Obama, other Cabinet members or the Mexican president about Operation Fast and Furious, the Times said.
"You don't have 15 minutes to pick up the phone?" Chaffetz asked.
Holder said others in his department discussed the operation with top U.S. and Mexico officials, and that he made "personnel changes" at ATF headquarters.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., called Fast and Furious a "horrible screw-up."