Holder faces grilling from House committee
Attorney General Eric Holder faces tough questioning from a House committee Wednesday afternoon over twin scandals that have dogged the Obama administration this week: the seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors and the revelation that IRS employees singled out conservative nonprofits for extra scrutiny.
In his prepared statement at the hearing, Holder mentioned neither topic, instead focusing on the Justice Department's commitment to civil rights, immigration reform, and the reversal of sequester cuts.
Holder said at the hearing that he realized there's been "criticism" of the department's decision to subpoena records for the private and work phones of more than 20 AP reporters and editors without at first notifying them, but that he was unable to say why the investigation's scope was so large, because he recused himself from the matter along with the rest of the national security division. "I am not involved in the case," Holder said.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc, said he was troubled that Holder did not take responsibility for the decision. "We don't know where the buck stops," he said.
On Tuesday, Holder said at a news conference that the national security leak that prompted the department to seize AP phone records was among the most serious he had ever seen.
“I have to say this is ... among the top two or three most serious leaks I have ever seen. It put the American people at risk. That is not hyperbole,” he said. The leak led to an AP story last year about the government foiling a Yemeni-based terror plot to bomb American airliners.
Meanwhile, Holder told reporters that he has launched an investigation into reports that the IRS singled out conservative groups and subjected them to more review and scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status. The IRS' inspector general report said that a group of low-level staffers in an Ohio office were responsible.
Holder's appearance at the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee hearing was scheduled before the IRS and AP news broke, but will most likely now be focused on those issues. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chair of the committee, said in a statement that he plans to ask "pointed questions" about the Justice Department's decision to subpoena two months' of AP telephone records, as well as question Holder about the IRS and whether there were any intelligence failures in the lead-up to the Boston bombings.
Holder has long faced criticism from Republicans, some of whom called for his resignation in 2011 over the failed gun-walking Fast and Furious operation on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Justice Department's inspector general cleared him of wrongdoing in that scandal last year, blaming the botched operation on Arizona federal prosecutors and ATF agents.
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