Attorney General Eric Holder endured another round of grilling before the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, again insisting he had nothing to do with the Justice Department’s decision to seize two months of phone records from Associated Press journalists.
Holder confirmed at the hearing that Deputy Attorney General James Cole greenlighted the subpoenas–which have enraged Republicans, Democrats, and journalists–after Holder recused himself from the probe. Holder initially said he could not say for certain who authorized the subpoenas.
Holder repeatedly said he could not answer any questions related to the DOJ investigation because he recused himself on the grounds that he had first-hand knowledge of the leak information and because he had frequent contact with the media. Holder said he did not alert the White House on the recusal and it is likely they were unaware of the investigation.
The Justice Department is currently investigating the disclosure of classified information having to do with a CIA operation in Yemen to stop a bomb plot. The AP wrote a story about it in May 2012. On Tuesday, Holder defended the DOJ’s actions, saying the leak that his department was probing “put the American people at risk.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is calling on Holder to resign. “Freedom of the press is an essential right in a free society,” he said in a statement. If Holder remains, “the message will be unmistakable: The President of the United States believes his administration is above the Constitution and does not respect the role of a free press.”
During the hearing, Holder acknowledged Priebus’s comments. “There been a lot of criticism. The head of the RNC asked for my resignation. I was not the person involved in that decision.”
The tense round of questioning also centered on accusations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, giving disproportionate scrutiny to their applications to become 501 (c) (4) organizations. Holder said he ordered a criminal investigation into the matter.
When asked during the hearing if the IRS apologizing immunizes those who were involved, Holder–who stressed again that he was outraged about the IRS’ actions–said “no” and promised a nationwide investigation if needed. “Anybody who has broken the law will be held accountable,” he said.
Like Priebus on the AP probe, House Speaker John Boehner is demanding the White House take more action in light of the drama surrounding the IRS.
“The IRS admitted to targeting conservatives, even if the White House continues to be stuck on the word ‘if,’” the Ohio Republican said Wednesday. “My question isn’t about who’s going to resign. My question is who’s going to jail over this scandal?”
On the AP phone probe, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday that there would be no comment on the investigation, but stressed the president is a “strong defender of the First Amendment and a firm believer in the need for the press to be unfettered in its ability to conduct investigative reporting and facilitate the free flow of information.”
He said the White House had no knowledge other than press reports of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek the phone numbers.
Similarly, Obama said a press conference on Monday that he was unaware of the IRS’ actions until Friday’s reports, just like everyone else. He called the organization’s actions “outrageous.”
“There’s no place for it. They have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity.”