Attorney General Eric Holder passed the buck on blame with a series of non-answers in regard to recent scandals during a scheduled appearance before the House Judiciary Committee today.
Holder was due before the panel for a regular oversight hearing, but the timing as the IRS and AP scandals unfolded meant he was under extra fire for the handling of his department.
“There’s been a lot of criticism raised about the scope of this investigation, including why the Department needed to subpoena records for 20 people over a lengthy two-month period,” Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) asked Holder of the DOJ’s grab of Associated Press phone records.
“Yeah, I mean, there’s been a lot of criticism. In fact, the head of the RNC called for my resignation, in spite of the fact that I was not the person involved in that decision,” Holder said. “But be that as it may, I was recused in that matter, as I described, I guess, in a press conference that I held, yesterday, the decision to issue this subpoena was made by the people presently involved in the case. The matter’s being supervised by the deputy attorney general. I am not familiar with the reasons why the subpoena was constructed in the way that it was, because I’m not a part of the case.”
“It’s my understanding that one of the requirements before compelling process from a media outlet is to give the outlet notice. Do you know why that was not done?” Goodlatte asked.
“There are exceptions to that rule,” Holder responded. “I do not know, however, with regard to this particular case why that was or was not done. I simply don’t have a factual basis to answer that question.”
The attorney general claims he was recused from the case because he was “a possessor of the information that was ultimately leaked.”
The AP story last May that got the administration so riled up was about a foiled underwear bomb plot originating from Yemen to mark the death of Osama bin Laden. At the time, President Obama was campaigning on a narrative that al-Qaeda had largely been defeated.
After claiming he had no idea who in the department made the grab of the AP’s records, Holder said, “I’ve just been given a note that we have in fact confirmed that the deputy was the one who authorized the subpoena.”
“Mr. Attorney General, I think that this committee has been frustrated for at least the last two and a half years, if not the last four and a half years, that there doesn’t seem to be any acceptance of responsibility in the Justice Department for things that have gone wrong,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).
The congressman suggested that Holder and his deputies go to the Truman Library and “take a picture of this thing that he had on his desk that said ‘the buck stops here,’ because we doesn’t know where the buck stops.”
Some committee Democrats criticized Republicans for demanding aggressive investigation of press leaks a year ago and now being upset about the surveillance of the AP. “Now, of course, it is convenient to attack the attorney general for being too aggressive or the Justice Department for being too aggressive,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).
“But this inconsistency on the part of my Republican colleagues should not distract us from legitimate questions worthy of congressional oversight, including whether the Espionage Act has been inappropriately used looking at leakers, whether there is a need for a greater press shield — which I believe there is — such as measures my colleagues have worked — some of my colleagues have worked to defeat in the past, and Congress’ broad grants of surveillance authority and immunity that some of my Republican colleagues supported and before today have been unwilling to re-examine,” Nadler added.
Holder later called the AP scandal “both an ongoing matter and ongoing matter about which I know nothing.” He also quickly said he “certainly did not alert the White House” about the subpoenas.