Addressing reporters today at the White House, President Barack Obama said he has "complete confidence" in how Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is running the U.S. Justice Department.
Holder has come under fire in recent months for the department's alleged mishandling of a controversial gun trafficking investigation called Operation Fast and Furious.
The sting targeted the sale and transfer of firearms in the Southwest. Straw buyers purchased thousands of firearms that critics contend ended up in the hands of drug traffickers in Mexico. Two weapons at the murder of a border patrol agent were later connected to the gun program.
Republican leaders on Capitol Hill this week stepped up their criticism of Holder, saying he knew more about the botched investigation than what he admitted in congressional testimony in May. At a hearing in the House then, Holder said he’d learned of the program only weeks earlier.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a leading critic of the Fast and Furious operation, said this week that Holder received five weekly memos, beginning in July 2010, about the gun program.
“With the fairly detailed information that the Attorney General read, it seems the logical question for the Attorney General after reading in the memo would be “why haven’t we stopped them?” Grassley said in a prepared statement today. “And if he didn’t ask the questions, why didn’t he or somebody in his office?”
Responding to the criticism at a press conference today, Obama told reporters: “He’s indicated that he was not aware of what was happening in Fast and Furious; certainly I was not. And I think both he and I would have been very unhappy if somebody had suggested that guns were allowed to pass through that could have been prevented by the United States of America.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general’s office has been investigating the ATF’s gun trafficking operation. Obama said he has “complete confidence in the process to figure out who, in fact, was responsible for that decision and how it got made.”
In August, Holder named a new acting head of ATF, B. Todd Jones, formerly the U.S. attorney for Minnesota. The embattled former head of the ATF, Kenneth Melson, stepped down to take a post as the senior adviser on forensic science for the DOJ’s Office of Legal Policy. This week, Jones announced a reshuffling of his top command staff.
On the topic of Wall Street and corruption, Obama today was asked whether prosecutors have been lax in building criminal cases against executives.
Obama said “one of the biggest problems” of the financial crisis is that “a lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily illegal; it was just immoral or inappropriate or reckless.”
“The financial sector is very creative and they are always looking for ways to make money,” Obama said. “That’s their job. And if there are loopholes and rules that can be bent and arbitrage to be had, they will take advantage of it.”
The president declined to discuss any single case. He touted the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation, saying that the new rules “will protect the American people from reckless decision-making and irresponsible behavior.”