His respite now appears to be over.
Holder was thrust back into the spotlight Tuesday after the revelation that his department had secretly obtained a large cache of telephone records of journalists working for the Associated Press. The phone records were seized as part of a year-long investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed al-Qaeda plot.
Although Holder said Tuesday he had recused himself last year from the probe into the leak — he had been questioned by investigators and wanted to avoid a conflict of interest — he has again been caught in the political crossfire. This time, the criticism is coming not only from Republicans but also from Democratic lawmakers and civil liberties groups disturbed by the Justice Department’s actions.
“The press has an incredibly important role to play in a free society by helping to hold our government accountable to the American people, and intimidation like this can have a chilling effect on their ability to do their jobs,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.). “These allegations, if proven to be true, cast an incredibly dark cloud over this administration.”
Under vigorous questions from reporters, Holder said Tuesday that Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole has overseen the FBI investigation into the leak and had authorized the seizure of phone records. But Holder also defended his department’s decision, saying he was confident that the officials involved in the investigation had taken the appropriate steps and followed the relevant Justice Department regulations.
“This was a very, very serious leak,” Holder said at a news conference at which he also announced an investigation into alleged misconduct at the IRS.
“It is within the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen,” the attorney general said. “It put the American people at risk. And that is not hyperbole. . . . Trying to determine who was responsible for that, I think, required very aggressive action.”
Since Obama was reelected, Holder has been dogged by questions over how long he intends to remain as attorney general. Those questions — which he has declined to answer — are likely to be rekindled by the latest controversy.
He is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. A statement from the chairman of the panel, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), said the session would focus not only on the controversy over the phone records but also on the “troubling allegations of the politicization of the Justice Department under Attorney General Holder’s leadership.”