Attorney General Eric Holder brushed off a question at today’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science and Related Agencies hearing on whether phones of the legislative branch were being monitored by the executive branch with help of the judicial branch.
“I want to take you to the Verizon scandal, and which I understand takes us to possibly monitoring up to 120 million calls. You know when government bureaucrats are sloppy, they’re usually very sloppy,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). “I want to just ask, could you assure to us that no phones inside the Capitol were monitored of members of Congress that would give a future executive branch, if they started pulling this kind of thing up, that would give them unique leverage over the legislature?”
“With all due respect, Senator I don’t think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue. I’d be more than glad to come back in a — in an appropriate setting to discuss the issues that — that you have raised,” Holder responded.
“I would interrupt you and say the correct answer would be to say no, we stayed within our lane and I’m assuring you we did not spy on members of Congress,” Kirk interjected.
Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) jumped in, saying that when she read the story in the New York Times this morning “it was like, oh God, not one more thing.”
“And not one more thing where we’re trying to protect America, and then it looks like we’re spying on America. I think the full Senate needs to get a brief on this. And I think we need the attorney general. I think we need the National Security Agency, and other appropriate people. This is in no way to minimize, actually, Senator Kirk your very excellent question,” Mikulski added.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said “the sooner the better” he hoped Mikulski, as chairwoman and a member of the Intelligence Committee, “would create the appropriate forum, that is a classified hearing to get into this where the attorney general could be open with us.”
“I think that what Senator Kirk is raising, is a very important question,” Shelby said.
Mikulski vowed to send notes to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) because the question cuts across committees, including Judiciary and Armed Services.
Kirk, also an attorney, said he wanted to ensure “that when you’re jumping out of your executive branch lane, you want to make sure you’re not gaining new intel and leverage over separated powers under our Constitution.”
“I would hope that we would get absolute assurance that not a single Supreme Court justice was at all involved in this whole Verizon thing,” he added.
“Senator Kirk, please do not take my response as something — as anything but being respectful of the concerns that you have raised. There has been no intention to do anything of that nature, that is to spy on members of Congress, to spy on members of the Supreme Court,” Holder said.
“Without getting into anything specific, I will say this, that with regard to — members of Congress have been fully briefed as these issues, matters, have been underway. I’m not really comfortable in saying an awful lot more about that. But the concerns that you have raised…” he continued before Mikulski interjected that “fully briefed” usually means a group of eight congressional leaders.
Kirk said he raised the questions because “someone, whoever was running this program, knows they really screwed up.”
“I would just ask that you kind of seize the records and not allow the destruction of evidence that they have accidentally monitored other branches of the government,” he said.
“As I said, I’d be more than glad to discuss this in an appropriate setting,” Holder responded.