MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
As NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, Republicans in Congress are asking what the Justice Department knew about the program.
CARRIE JOHNSON, Host:
Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversees the ATF, tried to explain what he knew about the episode on Capitol Hill this week.
ERIC HOLDER: You have to understand the way in which the department operates. Although there are operations, this one has become - has gotten a great deal of publicity.
DARRELL ISSA: Yeah, there are dead Americans as a result of this failed and reckless program, so I would say that it hasn't gotten enough attention.
JOHNSON: Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley has been on the trail too.
CHARLES GRASSLEY: At best, the ATF was careless in authorizing the sale of thousands of guns to straw purchasers. At worst, our own government knowingly participated in arming criminals, drug cartels and those who later killed federal agents.
JOHNSON: For his part, Attorney General Holder said he hadn't been aware of the operation. He told lawmakers it's on his radar screen now.
HOLDER: What I have told people at the Department of Justice is that under no circumstances, in any case, that any investigation that we bring, should guns be allowed to be distributed in an uncontrolled manner.
JOHNSON: In an exchange with Congressman Issa, Holder bristled at the suggestion those investigators have blood on their hands.
HOLDER: The notion that somehow or rather this Justice Department is responsible for those deaths that you mentioned, that assertion is offensive. And I want to tell you that...
BLOCK: But what if it's accurate, Mr. Attorney General?
JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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