Attorney General Says Alleged Bomb Plot in N.Y. Was 'Very Serious'

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009; 4:17 PM

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Tuesday that an alleged hydrogen peroxide bomb threat was "very serious" and "could have resulted in the loss of American lives."

In a wide-ranging conversation with Justice Department reporters, Holder said the FBI continues to hunt for those who helped the bomb plot's alleged mastermind, Denver shuttle bus driver Najibullah Zazi, and "it is our intention to bring all who were involved to justice."

"We have a good sense of who these people were, and I can say the investigation is pretty far along and I think we've got a pretty good handle on who was involved," he added.

Holder declined comment on the next phase of the investigation, including the timing on possible arrests. He nonetheless expressed confidence that authorities had defused the alleged al-Qaeda-inspired threat, which may have been intended to kill "scores" of Americans.

Holder used the occasion to call on Congress to swiftly reauthorize provisions of the USA Patriot Act, including tools that allow the FBI to conduct roving wiretaps of suspects, that have helped the bureau and its law enforcement partners in multiple cases. He nodded to the concerns of civil liberties advocates by acknowledging, "There's certainly a conversation that can be had about, do they need to be reexamined," but Holder went on to assert that "the tools as they exist are valuable and not in a theoretical sense."

On the same day the Senate confirmed civil rights division chief Tom Perez after weeks of stalemate over the unit's direction, Holder also urged lawmakers to confirm Dawn E. Johnsen to lead the department's Office of Legal Counsel. The Indiana University law professor's nomination has languished since March amid Republican concerns about her legal work for an abortion rights group and her positions on national security and counterterrorism.

For the first time, Holder said Tuesday that the nearly two-year-old criminal probe into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes is "close" to completion, with an announcement expected "relatively soon." A grand jury, meeting in Alexandria under the direction of career prosecutor John H. Durham, has been reviewing the matter, but lawyers involved in the matter have cast doubt on whether it will result in criminal charges.

Holder recently expanded Durham's mandate to include allegations of abuse of detainees by CIA contractors and interrogators during the Bush years, drawing the ire of seven former CIA directors. That inquiry is in its early stages, and Durham is sifting through materials prepared by prosecutors who looked at some of the cases five years ago as well as fresh evidence and elements, with no set deadline in sight, Holder said.

On a lighter note, reporters informed the attorney general that he was a finalist for an award from the American Moustache Society, competing against presidential adviser David Axelrod, a fellow graduate of Stuyvesant High School in New York.

"I was going to shave mine over the course of the summer," Holder said, "but my kids told me not to. I think I should have followed my gut. . . . I'd be honored to have the award but I'm not pining for it."

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