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The possible departure of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is unlikely to improve the icy relationship between the Republican-led House and the Justice Department, GOP lawmakers and aides say.
Instead, the House that held the attorney general in contempt of Congress for the first time in history and is suing him in federal court wants to see broader changes at the Justice Department during President Obama’s second term. Some Republicans want to see resignations in other top leadership posts at Justice, for example, including Senate-confirmed positions that oversee criminal and civil rights investigations.
“If they want to have a clean start, the assistant attorney generals in charge of the various divisions ought to be replaced. There ought to be a clean sweep,” said Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a former Judiciary Committee chairman who remains the panel’s most senior Republican. “Just changing the person at the top is not going to solve the problem, at least in terms of perception on the part of the House.”
Many House Republicans say very little will change unless the department turns over documents related to a failed law enforcement initiative in Mexico known as “Operation Fast and Furious.” Those documents have been at the center of the chamber’s problems with Holder, including its contempt citation and subsequent, related lawsuit.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who leads the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he will continue his aggressive oversight of the department even if Holder steps down. Issa’s committee began the contempt proceedings against Holder in June, and it sued him in federal court in September, seeking to compel disclosure of the documents it has long sought. Holder declined to provide them after invoking executive privilege.
“Attorney General Holder’s departure would not end the committee’s investigation of Operation Fast and Furious and the Justice Department’s response,” Becca Glover Watkins, a spokeswoman for the panel’s GOP majority, said in an email. “Any nominee should expect to face questions about the department’s inadequate response.”
Unless the department turns over the documents, it is shielding under executive privilege, “it will not get any better,” Sensenbrenner added. “The issue of the withheld documents has got to be resolved.”