By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
“It’s just like with ‘Fast and Furious’. He’s dodging who is really responsible in the Justice Department,” Sensenbrenner told Wisconsin Reporter Wednesday after grilling Holder about what he knew and when he knew it in The Associated Press phone records scandal.
Sensenbrenner, a Menomonee Falls Republican, peppered Holder with questions during the attorney general’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. Holder testified on an array of issues, including growing bipartisan questions and concerns about federal investigators who secretly seized phone records of AP editors and reporters.
The AP has reported the Justice Department confirmed it had grabbed the records for more than 20 telephone lines at the news services’ office and the cellphones and home phones of its journalists sometime this year. It appears the seizure is tied to a government probe into information leaks last year concerning the Central Intelligence Agency’s disruption of a terrorist plot.
AP has called the secret records grab a “serious interference” with the organization’s constitutional rights to “gather and report the news.”
Holder told the committee he has recused himself from the investigation into the leaks because the FBI had interviewed him about it. He said he wants to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the Justice Department’s second in command, led the pursuit of the AP phone records, a point Holder reiterated in his congressional testimony.
Sensenbrenner wasn’t having it. The congressman charged that Holder’s agency has lacked credibility and accountability since its investigation of the ATF’s Fast and Furious scandal – a botched federal operation that moved — and lost — weapons from the U.S. to suspected gun smugglers in pursuit of Mexican drug kingpins. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was fatally shot in December 2010.
“Mr. Attorney General, I think this committee has been frustrated from at least the last two-and-a-half years… (T)here doesn’t seem to be any acceptance of responsibility in the Justice Department for the things that have gone wrong,” said Sensenbrenner, a long-time member of the Judiciary Committee.
The congressman said it appears the Justice Department didn’t follow regulations, generally standard procedures on negotiations laying out the scope and length of a subpoena for the phone records.
“This is something designed to chill the press and their ability to get to the bottom of issues,” Sensenbrenner told Wisconsin Reporter. “The fact that the department ignored their own guidelines, I think at minimum the Office of Professional Responsibility in DOJ should look into that.”
“The regulations place the responsibility for approving these requests directly on the attorney general,” he said.
While Holder contends he knows nothing about the probe into the leak, he defended his department’s seizure of press records. He called the disclosure in the terrorist plot a “very serious leak, a very grave leak.”
Sensenbrenner in a statement said the department overstepped its bounds.
“While in certain instances, actions must be taken in the name of national security, the scope of this subpoena was an obvious abuse of power,” the congressman said.
Contact M.D. Kittle at email@example.com