The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is planning to subpoena Attorney General Eric Holder this week to determine who in the Justice Department knew about "Operation Fast and Furious" -- the plan to let thousands of guns sold in the U.S. get into Mexican drug cartel hands -- and when they knew it.
The subpoena targeting Holder aims to get at the heart of the authorization for the program, and when the people in charge decided the program was a problem.
"When did they know it wasn't the right way to do it and why (did) they keep doing it?" asked committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Issa, who is also a member of the House Judiciary Committee where Holder testified in May that he'd only learned of the program a few weeks earlier, told "Fox News Sunday" that "people in the top" of the Justice Department knew about the operation, were "well-briefed about it, and seemed to be the command and control and funding for this program."
Issa said those officials, who may or may not include Holder, would have known that the program was facing objections from law enforcement personnel in the field, but appeared to continue to let guns "walk" across the border.
"We didn't just have a few (guns) not be tracked. The whole program was about not tracking them until they were found in the scene of crimes. And they didn't just allow. They facilitated just one guy buy, one straw buy, over 700 weapons," Issa said.
On Friday, Holder issued a stern response to calls for a special counsel to probe the matter, saying he told the truth when he informed Congress he only heard about the program for the first time in April 2011. He added that earlier mentions of the program listed in at least five memos dated to 2010 did not indicate on first blush any problems with the program.
"I do not and cannot read them cover to cover," Issa wrote. "Here, no issues concerning 'Fast and Furious' were brought to my attention because the information presented in the report did not suggest a problem."
Freshman Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he can understand someone at Holder's level not reviewing every document that reaches his desk, but that when Holder knew he was going to testify about "Fast and Furious" to a House panel, he should have gotten brushed up on the program and its impact, including the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Guns linked to Fast and Furious were found at Terry's crime scene.
Labrador told Fox News that the response from Holder leaves him with no option but to conclude dishonesty or incompetence.
"By the time Officer Terry had been killed, there were other crimes linked to these guns. Why did he not do the research and find out how much his office knew? He was either lying or willfully neglecting to do his due diligence before he came before Congress," Labrador said.
"If, in fact, a border patrol agent has been murdered, 2,000 weapons have gone, this program has completely gone off of the rails, why didn't he know?" Issa asked.
In his response to House Republicans, Holder said that his critics have political motivations and added that he takes issue with the allegation that federal agents were "accessories to murder."
"Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms," Holder wrote. "Those who serve in the ranks of law enforcement are our nation's heroes and deserve our nation's thanks, not the disrespect that is being heaped on them by those who seek political advantage."
But Pima County, Ariz., Sheriff Paul Babeu said his state's elected sheriffs, of whom nine out of 15 are Democrats, support a special counsel.
"My deputies and officers across the southwest could face the barrel of a gun that our own government, Eric Holder and the president, put into the hands of these criminals," Babeu told Fox News. "Whoever approved this should be criminally held to account for this."
Issa said a special counsel should be appointed because "Eric Holder cannot investigate himself," but he said he's not going to let that get in the way of his investigation, which has been conducted in conjunction with Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa.
"Our investigation, along with Senator Grassley, has to get to the bottom of this sooner, not later, because the American people and people in Mexico don't trust their government right now," he said.
Labrador said whoever came up with the Fast and Furious program "needs to be
"Anybody who failed to do their duty, because of this program, needs to be fired as well," he said.