Republicans on Tuesday sought to intensify political pressure on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. over a disputed investigation into a gun trafficking network based in Phoenix, accusing him of misleading Congress.
Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to President Obama asking him to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Mr. Holder committed perjury in testimony about the investigation, known as Operation Fast and Furious, at a hearing in May.
Mr. Holder testified that he had only recently heard about the matter. But Mr. Smith pointed to two newly disclosed documents suggesting that the attorney general may have encountered references to Fast and Furious the previous year. He contends that the documents raise “significant questions about the truthfulness” of the testimony.
Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said Mr. Holder’s testimony “was consistent and truthful.” She said his answer in May meant that he had only become “aware of the questionable tactics employed in the Fast and Furious operation in early 2011 when A.T.F. agents first raised them publicly.”
In the investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed suspected low-level straw buyers for the gun trafficking network to purchase and transport guns. Their hope was that by watching them — rather than moving quickly to seize the guns — they would identify higher-level organizers for the network, which was funneling weapons to a Mexican drug cartel.
The bureau lost track of hundreds of the guns. Some turned up in Mexico, and two more were found in December at the scene where a Border Patrol agent was killed.
Republicans in Congress have vowed to find out if high-level department officials sanctioned the tactics.