Holder last week named Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District and Rod J. Rosenstein of Maryland to lead the investigations.
“Given the potential conflicts of interest with the department investigating itself . . . I believe the only way to truly get to the bottom of these dangerous leaks is to appoint an independent special prosecutor,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said.
The controversy involves a number of news stories about the Obama administration’s active role in clandestine operations against al-Qaeda and other adversaries. They include the Associated Press’s reporting about a disrupted terrorist plot by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, articles in several publications about the expanded U.S. drone campaign in Yemen, and reports in the New York Times that described President Obama’s role in approving “kill lists” for CIA drones and the use of computer viruses and cyberweapons against Iran.
Holder defended his decision and said that Rosenstein and Machen “are two great U.S. attorneys who have shown a willingness to take on difficult cases.”
He said he and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III have submitted to FBI interviews about what they knew about the leaks.
“And I can tell you that the interview was not some kind of pro forma, take-it-easy interview,” Holder said. “These were serious interviews that were done by some serious FBI agents.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) called on Holder to resign, berating him for not appointing a special prosecutor in the leaks investigation and accusing him of stonewalling in the probe of the botched gun operation called Fast and Furious.
“Americans deserve an attorney general that will be honest with them,” Cornyn said. “They deserve an attorney general who will uphold the basic standards of political independence and accountability. You have proven time and time again, sadly, that you’re unwilling to do so.”
Holder replied that Cornyn’s long list of complaints against him was “almost breathtaking in its inaccuracy,” and he said he has no intention of resigning.
Tuesday’s hearing came a day after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced that he had scheduled a June 20 vote on contempt-of-Congress charges against Holder stemming from the Fast and Furious investigation.
Senate Republicans also urged the attorney general on Tuesday to turn over more documents about the gun-trafficking operation, which was run out of the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“You’ve got one program called Fast and Furious that’s been an embarrassment to the administration, and it’s been like pulling teeth to get information about Fast and Furious, who knew what and when,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said. “And when you have programs on the national security front that seem to show the president is a strong leader, you can read about it in the paper.”
Holder told Grassley, who is leading the gun investigation in the Senate, that he is willing to meet with him and try to reach a compromise to avert the contempt vote.
“I want to make it very clear that I am offering to sit down . . . with the speaker, the chairman, with you, whoever, to try to work our way through this in an attempt to avoid a constitutional crisis,” Holder said. “I’ve extended my hand, and I’m waiting to hear back.”
Issa spokesman Frederick R. Hill said Holder must indicate what documents he will produce before the congressman will meet with him.
“Discussions about Fast and Furious have been ongoing for nearly a year and a half,” Hill said. “The Justice Department, however, did not express interest in reaching a workable solution until after the Committee announced it had obtained detailed wiretap applications from a source and scheduled a vote on contempt.”
After the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called the attacks by Republican senators a “strictly partisan, insincere attempt to embarrass the president.”
“During the time we’ve been a country, there have been nine” leak investigations, Reid said. “Six of those prosecutions have been in the Obama administration. . . . Two of the finest prosecutors we have in the Justice Department are working on this as we speak.”
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman and news researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.