Judiciary GOP: DOJ Defense of Holder Testimony Proof That He's 'Hiding from the Truth'

Leading Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee received an "insulting" response from the Justice Department in response to their inquiry about whether Attorney General Eric Holder perjured himself before their panel last month.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) asked Holder last Wednesday to explain the investigation of reporters in light of testimony he delivered at a May 15 oversight hearing.

In response to a question from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) about using the Espionage Act to prosecute members of the media for publishing classified material, Holder replied, "Well, I would say this: With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I've ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be a wise policy."

"You've got a long way to go to try to prosecute people -- the press for the publication of that material," Holder asserted.

Goodlatte and Sensenbrenner asked Holder to reply by Wednesday to a lengthy list of questions about the search warrant for Fox News reporter James Rosen's email, including details about DoJ regulations and attorney general approval for probing journalists' communications and why Rosen was referred to as a "co-conspirator."

"If you believe, as you testified, that prosecutions of members of the media 'have not fared well in American history,' why did you permit the Department to investigate Mr. Rosen as a co-conspirator or aider/abettor?" the lawmakers asked.

Peter J. Kadzik, principal deputy assistant attorney general, fired back a letter today affirming "the Attorney General was consulted and approved the application for the search warrant during the course of the investigation."

"Ultimately, as you know, although a Grand Jury has charged a government employee with the unauthorized disclosure of classified information, prosecutors have not pursued charges against the reporter," Kadzik continued. "The Attorney General's testimony before the Committee on May 15, 2013, with respect to the Department's prosecutions of the unauthorized disclosure of classified information was accurate and consistent with these facts. As the Attorney General explained, these prosecutions focus on those who 'break their oath and put the American people at risk, not reporters who gather this information.'"

Sensenbrenner declared that the two-and-a-half-page response from the DoJ is proof that Holder "is hiding from the truth."

For starters, the congressman says, the department notes that President Obama "has directed the Attorney General to conduct a review of Department policies regarding investigations involving the media" when the attorney general shouldn't be in charge of investigating himself.

“The Attorney General has initiated a dialogue with news media representatives" proclaimed the DoJ response, when the meeting was off-the-record and boycotted by many media organizations including the Associated Press.

“[Eric Holder] supports media shield legislation currently under consideration by the Senate," it continued. That bill was promoted by the White House to cover itself in the wake of the scandal erupting from the seizure of AP phone records. The legislation also likely wouldn't have protected Rosen or the AP, Sensenbrenner pointed out.

Regarding Kadzik's assertion that Holder's May 15 testimony was "accurate and consistent" with the facts, Sensenbrenner said "only a building full of lawyers can split hairs so finely to argue the Department’s investigation of Rosen did not rise to the level of a potential prosecution."

"Every first-year law student understands the difference between an investigation and a prosecution, but if the Department’s broad and open-ended warrant of Rosen’s emails was not part of a potential prosecution, then the Department has no regard for the First or Fourth Amendments," the congressman said.

Goodlatte said the response "raises more questions than it answers."

"By having a subordinate send this response rather than Attorney General Holder himself, this response begs the question of whether Holder has something to hide. Discrepancies in Attorney General Holder’s congressional testimony made on the record need to be corrected on the record to Congress by Attorney General Holder himself," the chairman said.

Goodlatte said the Wednesday deadline is still in effect as the committee "anxiously awaits" a response from Holder, not an underling.

“Attorney General Holder still has yet to respond to our letter. He can’t outsource the responsibility for his actions to lower level staff—the buck stops with him. The American people and Congress deserve answers and accountability from Attorney General Holder."

Sensenbrenner stressed that he's "not motivated by partisanship, but by truth."

"As former chairman and 35-year veteran of the House Judiciary Committee, I’ve sought answers to tough questions from both Republican and Democrat-appointed cabinet members," the Wisconsin Republican continued. "…And once again, Eric Holder is hiding from the truth."

"In lieu of a genuine response, he tasked Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik with drafting a defense," Sensenbrenner said. "This is insulting and further proof that the buck doesn’t stop with Attorney General Holder. Not only did the letter come from a low-level staffer at DOJ, not Holder himself, it fails to answer the questions raised by his misleading testimony."

"…Congress and the American people deserve an explanation, on the record, from Attorney General Holder. It is clear Eric Holder is dodging accountability and the truth. He is unfit to lead the Department of Justice."

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at today's daily briefing that Obama and his team "believe that the attorney general has the intellect, experience, and integrity to efficiently run the Department of Justice and not get distracted by the partisans who seem more interested in launching political attacks than cooperating with him to protect the security and constitutional rights of the American people."

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said he's with Goodlatte in not crossing the line to calling Holder's actions perjury just yet.

"I'm going right to the line. He certainly misled Congress. Perjury is very finely tuned crime, has to be looked at very carefully," King said on Fox today.

"This is the attorney general of the United States, and before he is accused of perjury everything should be done to make sure it is done the right way if any kind of charges are required, but again, at the very least, Eric Holder misled Congress," he added. "He failed to fulfill his obligation when the attorney general should do, and that is be honest with Congress. Whether or not it rises to the level of a felony, again that remains to be seen seen."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also carefully tread around the question of perjury, saying Holder "should ask himself whether he's really effectively serving the president of the United States."

"But clearly there have been some contradictory statements, and the press understandably, should be concerned about what we have found about their tactics," McCain said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), expressing frustration about the administration's continued deflection of the scandals, was asked on Fox today if there's anything GOP lawmakers can do better returning from the Memorial Day recess.

"I would call Eric Holder back and say, 'Now tell us again what you did with James Rosen.' I would subpoena every survivor in Benghazi and challenge the administration to make them available to the Congress for oversight purposes, and I would call the lady back that look the Fifth Amendment and try to find out what the hell she did," he said in reference to Lois Lerner, who led the IRS' tax-exempt division.

"We know nothing about these three scandals and Democrats are trying to make us to be the bad guys," Graham continued. "I've done nothing wrong. Darrell Issa has nothing wrong. He didn't go before the Congress and say he was uninvolved when he was."