Congressional Republicans once again are turning up the heat on Attorney General Eric Holder, asking more questions about whether he had a role in the controversial anti-gunrunning operation known as "Fast and Furious."
The new inquiry comes from Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. Despite recent personnel changes at the Justice Department, Smith told Holder in a letter Friday the department cannot "pin this scandal on a few individuals and expect it to be forgotten."
"Fast and Furious was a result of systemic problems at the ATF. Congressional interest will continue until we fully understand who authorized the failed program," Smith said.
The idea behind Fast and Furious, hatched in the ATF's Phoenix office, was to let so-called straw buyers purchase guns in the United States so they could be traced to big-time gunrunners in Mexico. But documents and testimony now show that U.S. officials lost track of thousands of guns, some of which later were found at the scenes of violent crimes, including the murder of a U.S. border agent.
On Friday, National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre accused Holder of stonewalling Congress.
"This is the biggest cover-up since Watergate, and it's time to ask the Watergate question. Who authorized Fast and Furious, and how high up does it go?" LaPierre asked during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.
According to a source close to the investigation, despite numerous subpoenas and demands for potentially thousands of pages of records, the Justice Department has turned over just 12 documents. Unless the House Oversight Committee can cut lose more incriminating documents from the Justice Department or additional whistleblowers come forward, the investigation could stall, said a person familiar with the situation.
So far, the scandal has produced headlines but only one resignation, that of the U.S. attorney in Arizona.
The paper trail however has revealed blatant lying by the Justice Department, which originally told Sen. Charles Grassley the ATF did not "walk" guns. That position conflicts with agent testimony and pages of internal emails.
A document obtained Friday by Foxnews shows the following agencies all had some hand in Operation Fast and Furious: ATF, IRS, DEA, ICE, the U.S. Marshall's Service, Phoenix police and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The operation allowed members of the Sinaloa Cartel to buy in excess of 1,900 weapons for more than $1.25 million dollars over a one-year period beginning October 2009, according to a briefing paper dated last January. The briefing paper did not delineate the duties of each agency, but other records have shown the IRS investigated the income sources of the straw buyers, Phoenix police assisted occasionally with surveillance, the DEA shared its informant and ICE “saw everything and had access to everything” the ATF did, according to an agent tasked to Fast and Furious.
But throughout the operation, the agency recovered just over 10 percent of the weapons.
An ATF whistleblower agent told Fox News the agency made "absolutely no attempt to follow the weapons." And even though agents used electronic vehicle trackers, they only used them on the strawbuyers, not on those to whom they transferred the weapons.
This does not jibe with an amended statement issued Thursday by ATF Agent in Charge Bill Newell, who claimed in a letter to Congress his the agency used "a wide variety of well established law enforcement investigative techniques" to interdict and seize weapons.
In his letter to Holder on Friday, Rep. Smith demanded to know what oversight role the Justice Department had over Fast and Furious. He also noted that President Obama promised a new era of government "transparency and openness" when elected in 2008, a promise that Smith says rings empty.