Justice Dept. defends Holder testimony


U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder looks on during a special naturalization ceremony at the Department of Justice in Washington May 28, 2013. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

A senior Justice Department official told two Republican congressmen Monday that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has never been involved in the prosecution of a journalist for the publication of classified information.

In an effort to mollify Republican lawmakers who have accused Holder of perjury, Peter J. Kadzik, the principal deputy assistant attorney general, sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Va.) and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (Wis.), emphasizing that an investigation is different than a prosecution and that any attempt to obtain a search warrant comes before any final decision about prosecution.

“We are unaware of an instance when the Department has prosecuted a journalist for the mere publication of classified information,” Kadzik wrote.

Kadzik’s letter is in response to accusations by Republican congressmen that Holder perjured himself when he testified May 15 that the potential prosecution of a journalist reporting sensitive information is “not something that I have ever been involved in, or would think would be a wise policy.”

A subsequent Washington Post report about a Justice Department investigation into possible leaks of classified information about North Korea to Fox News led Republicans to question Holder’s statement. In that case, law enforcement officials characterized reporter James Rosen as a possible “co-conspirator” in a crime.

Holder was consulted and approved the application for the Rosen search warrant in that investigation.

Goodlatte and Sensenbrenner sent Holder a letter last week asking for clarification of his remarks.

Kadzik wrote in his three-page letter that the government applied for a search warrant for information in Rosen’s e-mail account only after “exhausting all reasonable options.”

Under the Privacy Protection Act, the government may seek a journalist’s documents or work product only when there is probable cause to believe that the journalist has committed a crime, including the crime of unlawfully disclosing national defense or classified information.

On Monday, Goodlatte and Sensenbrenner criticized Holder for not responding to them directly and instead sending a letter from a subordinate.

Sensenbrenner said that the letter from Kadzik “fails to answer the questions” raised by Holder’s testimony.

“This response is insulting and further proof that Attorney General Holder refuses to hold himself accountable,” he said.

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years. Follow her @SariHorwitz.
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