Holder gets stormy reception from House panel
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This is a reblogged from. http://www.politico.com
posted by JOSH GERSTEIN
The fact there is no love lost between Attorney General Eric Holder and House Republicans was on clear display again Thursday afternoon at a stormy House appropriations panel hearing which culminated with the subcommittee’s chairman declaring he’d given up on Holder and his stewardship of the Justice Department.
“Forget it. Forget it. Forget it. Forget it. Forget it,” an exasperated Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) declared after Holder refused to commit to a deadline to answer 91 questions Wolf had prepared. The lawmaker, who heads the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department, said he planned to forego asking the questions orally so that Holder could leave the session in order to attend a meeting relating to the Boston Marathon bombing investigation.
“We’re just going to ignore you. I’m going to ignore you,” said Wolf, who complained earlier in the two-hour-long hearing that Holder and his aides had not responded to a slew of letters seeking information on various subjects. “Your civil rights division is a rats’ nest….I think you’ve been a failure with regard to the prison industries. You were a failure with regard, with regard to prison rape….If you’re not going to answer the questions….”
“Frankly, I’m not going to pay any attention to you because your positions with regard to these budget….You come up here. You were initially going to stay for the whole time. If you’re not going to answer these questions, then we’re not going to pay any attention to you. Hearing adjourned,” Wolf declared.
“No, Mr. Chairman….if you want me to stay, I’ll stay. I will stay,” Holder replied. “That meeting will just have to wait. If you want to ask some more questions, let’s go.”
“It is an important meeting, but I’m making a determination, if you want me to stay, I’ll stay,” the attorney general said.
“They told me it dealt with the Boston issue. Is that correct? That’s an important issue and I wouldn’t want you to miss it,” Wolf said, rising to his feet. “The hearing is adjourned. I think you ought to go to the meeting.”
Ignoring the fact that the hearing was adjourned, twice, Holder launched into a defense of his tenure at the department.
“You said some things that I think are a little unfair with regard to the civil rights division,” Holder said. “A lot of what the inspector general found in the civil rights division preceded my time as attorney general. We have taken steps to try to deal with the issues that were identified there.”
The chief of the civil rights division, Tom Perez, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to be the next secretary of labor. However, Holder conceded that “there’s no question that work needs to be done” to address further the problems described in the IG report.
The attorney general also said he’d worked diligently on the prison rape issue and to provide work for federal prisoners. He also took a shot at the management of the department under his GOP predecessors.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done across the board at the Justice Department in the last four and a half years. I’m proud of what I’ve done as attorney general. The department that we have now is fundamentally different than the department I found when I got there. We don’t hire people on the biases of political orientation. We don’t do things as was done in the previous administration. We don’t write memos that say that torture is appropriate when dealing with interrogation techniques.”
Relations between Holder and Republican-led House were never good, but went completely sour last June when lawmakers voted, 255-67, to hold Holder in criminal contempt for failing to turn over all the records a House committee subpoenaed about the department’s response to the Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking scandal.
In an interview in February, Holder said he had no respect for those who joined in what he dismissed as an act of “partisan sport.” All but three House Republicans backed the criminal contempt measure.
“I have to tell you that for me to really be affected by what happened, I’d have to have respect for the people who voted in that way,” Holder told ABC News. “And I didn’t, so it didn’t have that huge an impact on me.”
Earlier in Thursday’s hearing, Holder came under fire from GOP lawmakers for refusing to commit to brief them by a particular time about whether the Justice Department recommended to the Pentagon that it not label as an act of terrorism the attack at Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009. They pointed to an interview Army Secretary John McHugh did recently in which he suggested, but did not say outright, that the Justice Department advised the military against awarding medals to those injured in the attack because doing so could undermine the court martial for the alleged perpetrator, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan.
Hasan had been in touch by e-mail with Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula leader Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the attack, but investigators have indicated they don’t believe Al-Awlaki or others directed or helped plan the shooting spree.
Two victims of the attack and the wife of a soldier killed in the attack were in the audience at the hearing, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) pointed out as he raised the issue. The lawmaker, who once served on the base, said the victims were being denied medical care and other benefits as a result of being denied Purple Hearts.
Hasan is being prosecuted in the military justice system, not by the Justice Department, something Holder noted. “If we’ve had some interaction with [military prosecutors], I’m just not aware of it,” the attorney general said.
When Holder refused to commit to brief Rooney and other lawmakers about any such contacts, Wolf’s frustration boiled over.
“We’re never getting responses. Once you get out of here, you’re gone, there will be no response,” the chairman said.
At one point, Holder replied: “As soon as I can….that’s the best I can do for you.”
The attorney general eventually said he could “probably” brief lawmakers by the end of next month on any DOJ involvement in the case. He also thanked the victims for their service and said they had his “sympathy for the losses they’ve had to endure.” After the hearing, he spoke briefly with the three audience members involved.
Fattah tried to deflect some of the GOP anger, saying he thinks the Pentagon is “completely wrong” to have declared the event an incident of “workplace violence.” However, he said the decision to hold back on the awards may have been justified by a desire to “further the effective prosecution of the gentleman who did this.” Fattah, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, also urged Rooney to take up the issue with McHugh directly.
Rooney conceded that might have been the best way to proceed, but he also lashed out on behalf of the victims. “There’s a guy in the back of the room who has a bullet that needs to be removed from his body,” the lawmaker said angrily. “He has to wait with a bullet in his body until we figure out what the hell we’re doing in here.”
Wolf’s frustration with Holder seemed to extend beyond the attorney general to his staff. “They’re passing you notes left and right on every issue,” the schoolmarmish chairman complained. Later, he abruptly called out some of Holder’s aides seated in the front row.
“I see you whispering there, back and forth,” the chairman barked.