By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010; A15
Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder narrowly escaped a grilling before the Senate Judiciary Committee -- thanks to the signing of President Obama's health-care reform package on March 22, which preempted all other activity on the Hill.
This week, Holder may not be so lucky.
With the hearing now scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Republicans on the committee are planning to confront Holder on a range of recent controversies.
Chief among the Republican targets: Holder's announcement, since reversed, that the administration planned to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, in federal court in lower Manhattan. No new arrangements for a venue have been made. And the decision is now being managed by the White House rather than the Justice Department, putting Holder in the awkward position of having to defend a decision that has been overruled and is still in limbo.
But that well-worn territory may be the least of Holder's concerns, according to several Judiciary Committee officials.
Republicans are livid about Holder's failure to include in his confirmation questionnaire that he had written friend-of-the-court briefs in the terror case of Jose Padilla, arguing that civilian trials were appropriate to handle terror suspects and keep executive power in check. Holder sent a letter apologizing to the committee immediately after the amicus briefs were disclosed, but "there is still a lot of anger there," one Republican aide said.
And there are questions about his recent public statements. The last time Holder appeared on Capitol Hill, testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee, he had a testy exchange with Republicans over his intent to use civilian courts for terrorist trials. At one point, he declared that, far from coddling terrorists, the administration would never capture the most wanted al-Qaeda leader alive -- but would instead "be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden."
That triggered a debate within the administration over the policy for handling bin Laden, with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, contradicting Holder the following day. McChrystal said the goal was "certainly" to try to capture the al Qaeda leader. But the bigger question, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee, may be the use of Miranda warnings overall, in the wake of the attempted attack on an airliner as it landed in Detroit on Dec. 25. In that case, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian who is accused of trying to blow up the airliner, was read his Miranda rights nine hours after his arrest after an initial round of questioning.
Still, Holder may expect some friendlier questioning from Democrats. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) recently visited the Guantanamo Bay military facility and may ask questions about the prison and plans for its closure. And Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) may talk to him about drug prevention programs.