Holder testimony: Live Updates

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee this afternoon, facing questions about the Justice Department’s decision to secretly obtain journalists' phone records and about the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny.

Lawmakers also plan to question Holder about the deadly bombing at the Boston Marathon, the Justice Department's budget and the alleged politicization of the department under his watch.

[liveblog]

The IRS hearing: Live updates

At 10 a.m., the Senate Finance Committee is holding its first hearing looking at the Internal Revenue Service's inappropriate targeting of conservative groups.

Set to testify are the same two witnesses who testified before the House last week -- former acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller and J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration -- along with a much-anticipated new witness: former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, who was in charge when the targeting began in 2010.

Stay tuned to the live blog below for all the key moments...

[liveblog]

The end

After four hours and 15 minutes of questioning and some tense moments, the hearing has come to an end.

Thanks for joining the Post's live blog!

Holder hits GOP for lack of respect: ‘I am the Attorney General of the United States’

Holder took a moment after some tough questioning to hit back at Republican critics who he said have not shown him due respect

"I don’t, frankly, think I’ve always been treated with respect, and it’s not even a personal thing," he said. "That’s one thing. But I am the Attorney General of the United States.

Holder said the problem is "emblematic" of the "toxic" partisanship in Washington

"It’s almost a toxic partisan atmosphere where basic levels of civility simply don’t exist," he said.

Holder said he tries to be respectful of Congress's oversight role, but suggested that Republicans have made it difficult.

“I’ve tried to do that. Maybe I’ve not always been successful. I certainly know that I have not been treated in that way all the time.”

Holder gets testy: ‘I’m not the cause’ of IRS scandal

Holder got a little testy with another Republican on the committee.

During his question time, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) posited that Holder's attitude toward Congress is symptomatic of the Obama administration's political attitude and suggested it might have contributed to the IRS targeting conservatives.

Labrador noted that, when the House voted to hold Holder in contempt last year, the attorney general said he didn't have respect for those who voted for the resolution.

Labrador said: "You said you didn't have respect for the people who voted [yes], and I think that same contempt may have led also to people in this administration thinking they can go after conservatives and conservative groups."

Holder shot back sternly: "I’m not the cause of people in the IRS doing things that might have been illegal. I am not taking – I will not take that."

Labrador clarified: "I'm not accusing you of that. I'm just saying that maybe that same statement emboldened people to think that they could also go after other conservative groups."

Holder: Justice Department can’t find a record of my recusal

Holder's recusal (and the lack of a record of it) is starting to become an issue.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), a former prosecutor, pressed Holder on why there is no written record of his recusal from the case involving the secret seizure of AP phone records.

Holder admitted that the Justice Department has been unsuccessfully searching for a copy of his recusal and acknowledged that it may not exist.

"That's something we were looking for, and nothing has been found," Holder said, before acknowledging: "That actually might be a better policy to have."

Conservatives are questioning why Holder wouldn't have put such a recusal in writing. Holder has cited the recusal as the reason he can't provide specifics on the case.

Holder on Justice Dept.: ‘We are not politically correct’

Responding to a question from Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) about the Boston bombings, Holder said the Justice Department doesn't target Muslims and isn't politically correct.

Holder said only "a small minority of people of that faith...engage in these activities."

"We are not politically correct in the way in which we conduct our investigations," he said. "We go after individuals. We do not go after religions."

Holder lectures Gohmert

Another tense exchange occurred when Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) suggested the FBI dropped the ball by not pursuing alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev when Russian authorities expressed concern about him in recent years.

Gohmert repeatedly asked whether the FBI had asked about Tsarnaev's associates and the mosque he attended, among other questions. By the end of his five minutes, the conservative congressman was raising his voice and basically yelling at Holder.

Given one last opportunity to respond, Holder said Gohmert was making accusations without any evidence.

"You simply do not know that, and you have characterized the FBI as being not thorough," Holder said. "I know what the FBI did. You cannot know."

Holder noted that the FBI's activities aren't made public unless there was wrongdoing involved.

"The congressman could not know, unless as I said, something inappropriate has happened," Holder said.

Issa’s quest

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has given us perhaps the key moment of today's hearing, when Holder called his conduct "unacceptable" and "shameful."

But Holder is hardly the first Democrat whose skin Issa has gotten under.

For more on Issa's big role in leading the GOP response to the emerging Washington controversies, see Paul Kane's just-posted analysis.

Holder calls Issa’s conduct ‘shameful’ and ‘unacceptable’

A tense exchange between Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Holder led the attorney general to label the House Oversight Committee chairman's conduct "unacceptable" and "shameful."

The two clashed repeatedly over 10 minutes, mostly over Assistant Attorney General and labor secretary nominee Tom Perez. It got personal when Issa accused Justice of trying to hide the content of e-mails submitted to investigators:

Issa: Yes, you didn't want us to see the details. Mr. Attorney General...

Holder: No, this is what you typically do.

Issa: Knowing the two...

Holder: I'm not going to stop talking now. You have characterized something as something...

(CROSSTALK)

Issa: Mr. chairman, will you inform the witness as to the rules of this committee?

Holder: ...It is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It's unacceptable, and it's shameful.

Issa seemed to brush the comment aside and continued his line of questioning.

A quick note on today’s hearing

For those expecting more fireworks than we've gotten so far, keep this in mind: This hearing has been scheduled for some time and was not called in response to the scandals of the past few days.

Clearly, Holder did not come to the hearing seeking to take control of the narrative on the IRS scandal or the AP phone records case -- which he says he has little knowledge of because he was recused. This was merely one of a periodic set of appearances (six, so far) by the attorney general before the committee responsible for overseeing his department.

Democratic Rep.: Justice Department has ‘impaired the First Amendment’

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) is the first Democrat to ask Holder some tough questions about the difficult issues at hand.

Lofgren said the decision to secretly obtain Associated Press journalists' phone records might have created a chilling effect on journalists and confidential sources.

“It seems to me clear that the actions of the department have in fact impaired the First Amendment," Lofgren said. "Reporters who might have previously believed that a confidential source would speak to them will no longer have that level of confidence."

Lofgren proceeded to question why and how Holder recused himself from the case. Holder responded that he doesn't believe his recusal is in writing.

"I think this is a very serious matter that I think concerns all of us no matter our party affiliation," she said.

Holder: Deputy attorney general authorized AP phone records subpoena

Holder received confirmation during the hearing that Deputy Attorney General James Cole authorized the subpoena to secretly obtain the phone records of Associated Press journalists.

Holder earlier in the hearing said he was 95 percent (or more) sure it was Cole, but he later clarified that it was Cole, the Justice Department's No. 2.

Holder: Some inquiry into 501 (c) (4) groups ‘appropriate’

Under questioning by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that he believes that some scrutiny of entities seeking to be classified as tax-exempt "social welfare" organizations is prudent.

"Some inquiry into that area is appropriate, but it has to be done in a way that doesn’t depend on the political persuasion of the group," Holder told the committee.

Chabot noted during his question time that he represents the Cincinnati area, where the IRS tax-exempt office under scrutiny is located.

More on Tom Perez

For those unfamiliar with why members are talking so much about Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez: It's because he also happens to be the Obama administration's nominee for labor secretary.

For more on the controversy over Perez, see here.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) in his opening statement cited Perez's conduct in the case of a whistleblower in St. Paul, Minn. He was interrupted by a Democrat who said he was mischaracterizing a subcommittee report.

Later, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) tossed a softball (metaphorically) at Holder, asking him to evaluate Perez's job performance. Holder said Perez would go down as a great assistant attorney general for his work on civil rights issues.

Obama will meet with senior Treasury officials

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday the president would meet with senior Treasury Department officials “to yak about the next steps that he hopes to be taken” to address the problems at the IRS and hold agency officials for singling out conservative groups for heightened scrutiny.

“He’s calling for action, that action be taken,” Carney said. “Actions need to be taken to hold people accountable for their failures and to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Carney would not say whether the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, should step down. “I’m not going to get into personnel matters,” he said.

Holder: I don’t have answers on AP phone records

Holder sounds like he won't be answering many specific questions about the Justice Department secretly obtaining the phone records of Associated Press journalists. He claims he simply doesn't know the answers because he recused himself.

Asked about it by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Holder repeatedly noted that he recused himself from the process, which was handled by an assistant attorney general.

"I was not the person who was involved in that decision," Holder said. "The head of the RNC called for my resignation in spite of the fact that I was not the person who was involved in that decision."

Holder added: "I am not familiar with the reasons why (it was handled) in the way that it was, because I'm simply not a part of the case."

Asked for more specifics, Holder said he quite simply doesn't know the answers to the questions that Goodlatte was asking.

"I have faith in the people who actually were responsible for this case, that they were aware of the rules and that they followed them," Holder said. "But I don't have a factual basis to answer the questions that you have asked, because I was recused."

Holder blames other countries for failure on Tamerlan Tsarnaev

The first questions from Goodlatte have to do with concerns about the FBI's handling of alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- particularly in light of the fact that Russia alerted the United States that he was dabbling in religious extremism.

Holder suggested that other countries were at fault for not cooperating with the FBI.

"I'm not at all certain that all of the requests that were made to a foreign country by the FBI were replied to in an adequate manner," he said.

Conyers’s attire draws Twitter buzz

Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) is drawing attention on Twitter as much for his opening remarks as for his suit.

 

Here's a picture:

 

Goodlatte interrupted by Democrat during opening statement

Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) began the hearing by focusing on the Boston Marathon bombings and how the Justice Department can "tighten its belt."

By the end, though, he accused the Justice Department of politicization and questioned the department's secret seizing of journalists' phone records.

Goodlatte was interrupted during his opening statement by a Democrat on the committee who alleged that he was mischaracterizing a subcommittee report on Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez.

Here's the offending comment: "Investigators from this Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee have uncovered conclusive evidence that Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, against the strong recommendations of career attorneys, struck a secret deal with the city of St. Paul in order to block the Supreme Court from freely and impartially adjudicating an appeal that the Court had affirmatively chosen to hear."

Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) agreed that there are questions that need to be answered about the department secretly obtaining AP's phone records, but he also gave Holder some cover by noting that he has recused himself from the investigation.

"I'm troubled by the notion that our government would pursue such a broad array of phone records," Conyers said.

Holder’s NPR interview

Worth noting before we begin: Holder said in an interview with National Public Radio this morning that he is "not sure" how many reporters' phone records were seized.

“I’m not sure how many of those cases that I have actually signed off on,” Holder told NPR.  ”I take them very seriously. I know that I have refused to sign a few, pushed a few back for modifications.”

Expect Republicans to press him on this.

Holder’s opening statement doesn’t mention IRS, AP phone records

The Judiciary Committee has posted Holder's opening statement, but if you're looking for anything juicy, you won't find it.

In the brief statement, Holder makes no mention of the controversies that are likely to be the focus of the hearing.

Instead, the attorney general discusses the response to the Boston Marathon bombings, the Justice Department's budget and the current immigration and gun debates in Congress.

"... I must note that our capacity to continue building upon the Department’s recent progress is threatened by the long-term consequences of budget sequestration and Joint Committee reductions, which will worsen in Fiscal Year 2014, unless Congress adopts a balanced deficit reduction plan," Holder will say, according to the prepared remarks. "Should Congress fail to do so, I fear that these reductions will undermine our ability to deliver justice for millions of Americans, and to keep essential public safety professionals on the job."

Updated 2:02 p.m.: Here is video of Holder's testimony:

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Aaron Blake | May 15, 2013