Attorney General Eric Holder and a House chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, have squared off over the Justice Department's flawed gun-smuggling probe.
Issa, R-Calif., is demanding the department turn over documents about how it handled congressional inquiries after problems with Operation Fast and Furious came to light.
At the start of Thursday's hearing, Issa said the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will do what is necessary to force the Justice Department to produce the information.
The attorney general says he will consider Issa's demand.
Issa has threatened a contempt of Congress ruling against Holder for failing to turn over the congressionally subpoenaed documents. The lawmaker alleges the Justice Department is engaging in a cover-up.
The Justice Department on Wednesday rejected an assertion by a House committee chairman that top Justice officials are covering up events surrounding a flawed gun-smuggling probe, Operation Fast and Furious.
Rep. Issa made the accusation in a letter threatening to seek a contempt of Congress ruling against Attorney General Eric Holder for failing to turn over congressionally subpoenaed documents that were created after problems with Fast and Furious came to light.
In Fast and Furious, agents lost track of about 1,400 weapons they were tracking after they were sold to low-level straw purchasers believed to be supplying Mexican drug gangs and other criminals. Another 700 firearms connected to suspects in the investigation have been recovered, some from crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S., including a murder scene in Nogales, Ariz., where border agent Brian Terry was slain.
Issa's allegation was fueled by documents turned over Friday night by the Justice Department that contained new information about the events of early February, 2011.
Two days before Justice told Congress that federal agents made every effort to intercept illegally purchased weapons, the department's criminal division chief, Lanny Breuer, was suggesting letting some illicit "straw" weapons buyers in the U.S. transport their guns across the Mexican border where Mexican law enforcement could arrest them.
According to emails turned over to the committee, Breuer made the suggestion to Mexican officials because it "may send a strong message to arms traffickers" because Mexican laws contain far stiffer penalties against straw gun buyers than U.S. laws do.
Responding Wednesday to Issa, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said it is neither fair nor accurate to equate Breuer's suggestion to the risky "gun-walking" that the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed to take place in several gun-smuggling investigations that dated back to 2006 when Republican George W. Bush was president.
"In light of Assistant Attorney General Breuer's commitment to stemming the flow of guns from the United States into Mexico and his strong ties and collaborative relationships with his counterparts in Mexico, it is inconceivable that his intention was to have guns released into Mexico," Cole wrote.
By Associated Press writer Pete Yost.