US Attorney General Eric Holder, under fire for government monitoring of Associated Press reporters as well as the scandal rocking the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), appeared before lawmakers today to answer some "pointed'' questions, according to House Judiciary Committee chairman and Republican Bob Goodlatte.
"Any abridgement of the First Amendment is very concerning, especially reports that the IRS targeted conservative groups for unwarranted scrutiny during an election year,'' he said, effectively summing up the top concerns on Capitol Hill, reported USA Today.
Holder on Tuesday said he had recused himself from a Justice Department probe that included the secret monitoring of phone calls made by Associated Press reporters, but the controversy quickly snowballed into calls for his resignation.
Rep. Tom Marino, a Republican from Pennsylvania, asked Holder on Wednesday for a written record of his recusal and was surprised to hear it might not exist. The Justice Department has been looking for a copy, Holder said, but no luck so far. “That’s something we were looking for, and nothing has been found,” The Washington Post cited Holder as saying.
Lawmakers have expressed deep concerns over the case, and Holder on Wednesday promised them an "after-action analysis'' on the AP affair after his department had finished its investigation.
"I am deeply troubled by the notion that our government would secretly pursue such a broad array of media phone records over such a long period of time,'' ranking committee Democrat Rep. John Conyers told Holder on Wednesday, reported USA Today. The AP phone records were believed taken during a two-month period in April and May 2012.
Things also got pretty heated between Holder and California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who accused the attorney general of witholding an email exchange with Thomas E. Perez, Obama's pick for labor secretary, accusing him of trying to hide a "quid pro quo" exchange. Enraged, Holder slammed Issa's line of questioning as "shameful." Watch it here:
Holder again invoked his recusal when asked why the AP was reportedly not informed before their phone lines were monitored, saying he did not know. Emphasizing that there are "exceptions to the rules" in certain cases, Holder said he could not comment further but did clarify that Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole had signed off on the AP subpoena.
"I don't have any interactions with the people involved in the case," Holder said at another point. He repeatedly cited his recusal when asked about the investigation, prompting lawmakers to press him for specifics as to why he removed himself from the case.
"I am a fact witness,'' Holder said, explaining that he had information directly related to the leak. "I was a possessor of the information," he said, adding that other Justice Department National Security Division members had also removed themselves, reported USA Today.
Here's a clip from the AP phone probe discussion:
The attorney general's comments came a day after the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a criminal investigation into reports that the IRS targeted right-of-center organizations, said MSNBC.
Holder said Wednesday that the DOJ investigation was not limited to Washington and would be nationwide, said USA Today.
Asked Wednesday about specific criminal laws potentially broken by the IRS, Holder said it was possible that civil rights were violated but declined further comment.
"The facts will take us wherever they take us,'' he said, referring to the DOJ probe.