Holder chief of staff targeted by Republicans in ‘Furious’ scandal to leave post

In one of the first high-level departures from the Justice Department since President Obama was elected to a second term, Attorney General Eric Holder's chief of staff -- a political target for Republican lawmakers probing Operation Fast and Furious -- will be leaving his post.

The Justice Department says Gary Grindler was a "top adviser" to Holder "on all matters," and he "played a key role" in negotiations over the BP oil spill, which recently culminated in a $4 billion settlement with BP.

"Gary has played a central role in our work to protect the American people and I will always be grateful for his dedication to the Department, his service to our Nation, and his sound advice and personal friendship," Holder said in a statement. "He has demonstrated time and again his good judgment and an ability to make the tough -- and correct -- decisions."

A Justice Department official says Grindler's departure is part of a normal turnover between administrations, with nothing more to it than that.

Nevertheless, congressional Republicans looking into the botched Operation Fast and Furious pointed to him as evidence that high-level Justice Department employees in Washington knew about the program while it was underway. Grindler received a short briefing on Fast and Furious during a meeting with law enforcement officials in March 12, 2010, several months after it was launched by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

However, "the limited information presented at the briefing was not sufficient to put Grindler on notice of ATF's failure to interdict firearms that it could have legally seized," according to a recent report by the department's inspector general. In addition, Grindler told congressional investigators that if he had been told firearms were being allowed to go to Mexico he would have "done something about it."

At the same time, the inspector general's report said Grindler should have notified Holder when he learned guns found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's murder in December 2010 were tied to Fast and Furious.

In a statement released in response to Grindler's departure, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he anticipates other officials involved in the operation will follow Grindler's lead.

“Gary Grindler was appropriately faulted by his department’s own inspector general for keeping information about a connection between the murder of a border patrol agent and a mishandled department operation away from the attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security. His departure from the Justice Department is warranted and long overdue,” Issa said.

Grindler has been chief of staff for nearly two years, and before that he served as acting deputy attorney general -- the department's No. 2 position.

It's unclear what's next for Grindler. His last day is Wednesday.

Prior to joining the Obama administration, Grindler was in private practice in Washington with the firm King & Spalding. He focused on white-collar criminal defense, internal corporate investigations and complex civil litigation, according to the Justice Department.

Margaret Richardson, the current deputy chief of staff, will be taking over as chief of staff.