Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is pressing Ron Machen, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, to explain whether political interference has blocked him from prosecuting Attorney General Eric Holder, whom the House of Representatives held in criminal contempt yesterday.
After the contempt vote, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote to House Speaker John Boehner saying the administration has decided it won’t ask Machen to enforce the resolution.
“The Department has determined that the Attorney General’s response to the subpoena issued by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform does not constitute a crime, and therefore the Department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General,” Cole wrote.
But in a letter to Machen, Grassley wrote Friday that the U.S. attorney doesn’t appear to have personally made the decision not to prosecute. It appears, he wrote, that Holder or some other political figure in the Obama administration made it for him, and that the decision seems to lack even the appearance of “independence.”
“It does not appear possible that you could have undertaken any such independent assessment,” Grassley said. “The Deputy Attorney General’s letter has put the cart before the horse. As you may or may not know, the Justice Department and the White House have refused to provide a particularized description of the documents being withheld or a description of the documents over which executive privilege has been asserted. No one can reasonably make an intelligent judgment as to the validity of a privilege claim without a specific description of the documents in question, at the very least.”
In addition, Grassley wrote that Americans should not trust a U.S. attorney who lacks independence to investigate the recent national security leaks emanating from the Obama administration.
“Your independence and integrity were cited as the reason that there was supposedly no necessity to appoint a special prosecutor,” Grassley said of the probe into those leaks. “This matter gives you an opportunity to live up to that high praise and prove your independence. However, the way this has been handled so far suggests no such independence at all.”
During a Friday morning press gaggle, White House press secretary Jay Carney defended what appears to be a DOJ decision that Machen won’t prosecute Holder.
“It is an established principle, dating back to the administration of President Ronald Reagan, that the Justice Department does not pursue prosecution in a contempt case when the President has asserted executive privilege,” Carney said. “The assertion of executive privilege makes the contempt matter moot, if you will.”
“I mean, I’m not a lawyer, so I’m probably not using quite the precise language. But it is my understanding, and I would refer you to the Justice Department, that dating back to the administration of President Reagan that prosecutions will not take place under this — in this circumstance.”