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Eric Holder Attacks Escalate

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Attorney General Eric Holder prepares to testify today at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Justice Department.

Cornyn’s statement came one day after Issa scheduled a committee vote on holding Holder in contempt of Congress and established a clear universe of documents that the Justice Department could provide to avoid that vote.

At the same time that the attorney general was testifying in the Senate, Boehner laid down his own marker.

“The Speaker will meet with the attorney general when the attorney general complies with the reasonable, specific requests in the May 18 letter from House leaders and Chairman Issa,” a Boehner spokesman said.

On the floor, Republicans rebuked Holder for the leaks investigation, which they argued should be done by a special prosecutor, not by political appointees of President Barack Obama.

Sen. John McCain continued criticism he began last week, railing that national security had been politicized to boost Obama’s re-election efforts.

The Arizona Republican introduced a resolution urging Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate and for the president to review the results of that effort to determine whether national security was breached and how “damage can be mitigated.”

Democrats blocked the measure.

At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Holder strongly defended Ronald Machen and Rod Rosenstein, the two U.S. attorneys he selected. He said they had the independence and “moxie” to follow the leads wherever the investigation takes them.

Holder argued that he decided against a special prosecutor because it would take too long and there is an urgent need to find who leaked classified information.

Democrats, including Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), backed Holder’s decision. Feinstein said a fight over how to investigate the leaks would set back the investigation, while Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney himself, defended the ability of career prosecutors to conduct an independent probe free of influence from the White House or other executive branch officials.

Cornyn doubled down on his calls for Holder to resign after the Republicans’ weekly caucus lunch later in the day, saying the attorney general does not meet “high standards required of that very important office.”

Among GOP leaders, Cornyn led the charge in questioning the impartiality of the two U.S. attorneys. At their closed-door lunch, Senate Republicans discussed Holder and how to continue their challenge to the administration, according to aides familiar with the discussion. Cornyn later went to the floor to continue his criticism of Holder.

However, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was pressed on the issue, he declined to say whether he agreed with Cornyn’s position that Holder should resign.

“We certainly need to have an investigation of what has happened, and I think John Cornyn speaks for a lot of us as to the frustration we feel about not only the national security leaks, the Fast and Furious matter. There’s been a whole litany of problems coming out of the Justice Department,” McConnell said, noting that he “is listening carefully to what my colleagues are saying.”

Democrats, while leery, are defending Holder against what they believe are purely partisan attacks.

“This whole episode in the last few days by my Republican friends has been a strictly partisan, insincere attempt to embarrass the president,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said.

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