"If this is true and he did not know, then he should have known," the family of Brian Terry, an agent killed in a December shootout in Arizona, said in a statement issued Wednesday through a lawyer.
Two of the guns found at the scene of Terry's death were traced back to Operation Fast and Furious, an ATF-led scheme that allowed more than 2,000 guns to be sold illegally to straw buyers in the U.S. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives hoped to follow the buyers as they resold the weapons to Mexican cartels, but they lost track of hundreds of weapons. Nearly 200 have turned up at crimes scenes in Mexico.
The so-called gun-walking tactic has become the center of the controversy since whistle-blowers came forward earlier this year to expose the program and its connection to the Terry slaying.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Holder said the tactic was inappropriate but repeatedly denied that he or other top level officials had ever been told it was in use.
Asked if he wanted to apologize to Terry's family, Holder said he "regrets" the death but called it "unfair" to believe that Fast and Furious was the direct cause.
In the statement, issued by attorney Lincoln Combs, the Terry family took issue with Holder's claim.
"The fact of the matter is that the men who killed Brian Terry were armed with brand new military-grade assault weapons and ammunition. The weapons were allowed to be purchased with the full approval of ATF and the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona; both agencies falling under the control of the attorney general," the statement said.
GOP lawmakers on the committee are pushing Holder to hold Justice officials accountable for the failed operation. Holder argued that he is waiting for the findings of an inspector general investigation before assigning blame. He said he believes he acted responsibly given the information he had.
Terry's family disagreed.
"Well, we know who screwed up: they were ATF supervisors in the Phoenix Field Office who thought up and initiated this plan, ATF Headquarters executives who allowed it to continue, and officials in the Department of Justice who didn't put a stop to it when they had the opportunity," the statement said.
"Mr. Holder needs to own Operation Fast and Furious. In the end, Mr. Holder may choose not to apologize to the Terry family for the role that ATF and DOJ played in the death of Brian Terry, but the attorney general should accept responsibility immediately. It is without question, the right thing to do."