Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday that a bipartisan group of legislators held him in criminal and civil contempt of Congress last week because he is a “proxy” for attacking President Barack Obama in an election year.
Holder gave The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz his first post-contempt interview. She printed his comments unchallenged.
In the interview, Holder, the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress, said he still thinks he is the target of a Republican witch hunt.
“I’ve been doing all of these things all the time [House oversight committee chairman Rep.] Darrell Issa and his band have been nipping at my heels,” Holder told Horwitz. “They’ve been nipping, but I’ve been walking.”
“I’ve become a symbol of what they don’t like about the positions this Justice Department has taken,” he added. “I am also a proxy for the president in an election year. You have to be exceedingly naive to think that vote was about … documents.”
Last week’s contempt votes on the House floor came after he withheld tens of thousands of pages of documents from Congress in the Operation Fast and Furious scandal. While Horwitz wrote that Holder has indeed provided Issa with about 7,600 pages of material, she did not note that many of those documents were completely blacked-out pages or otherwise heavily redacted. (RELATED: Full coverage of Operation Fast and Furious)
Horwitz also did not note Holder’s admission that he has internally identified more than 140,000 pages that he has yet to justify withholding.
President Obama used his executive privilege powers — unexpectedly and minutes before a House oversight committee vote that officially kicked off the contempt proceedings — to protect documents related to Fast and Furious. Despite facing questions on several occasions, Holder did not tell Congress he planned to request executive privilege protection.
Outside of a recent refusal from White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to confirm or deny whether Obama himself was involved in a cover-up of documents, the White House has maintained that the president’s privilege assertion covers documents from inside the Department of Justice that reflect internal deliberative processes. According to the Congressional Research Service and court precedents, assertion of that deliberative process privilege “disappears altogether when there is any reason to believe government misconduct has occurred.”
California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, an ardent Holder defender, has said “absolutely” that “government misconduct” in Fast and Furious would invalidate executive privilege claims. Horwitz did not tell her readers about the legally questionable grounds underpinning Obama’s executive privilege assertion.
In his interview with the Post, Holder also said his legacy will not reflect his status as the first cabinet-level official to be held in in civil and criminal contempt of Congress. He will be remembered, he said, for his “civil rights” work, his work against terrorism and his choice to selectively enforce the nation’s laws.
“This seems large in the moment, but the question is, how will this be viewed one year from now, five years from now?” Holder said. “My bet will be that people are going to remember the stands I took to prevent the disenfranchisement of millions of people, the position I stood for in not defending the Defense of Marriage Act, what we did in protecting the American people, the numbers of people we put in jail and the [terrorist] plots we disrupted.”
Issa has already explained to Holder how he believes the American people will remember him if he refused to be transparent.
“Fast and Furious will be your legacy,” Issa wrote in May.
It’s unclear if Horwitz asked Holder about that Issa letter. She did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment.
Horwitz’s article also did not mention a document Holder has said the president cannot hide via executive privilege, a possible smoking-gun email showing that senior administration officials lied to Congress about Fast and Furious and knew a Feb. 2011 letter from the DOJ to Sen. Chuck Grassley was false nine months before the agency withdrew it.
The Washington Post is not the first friendly publication the DOJ has worked with to diffuse the Fast and Furious scandal.
In November, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn exposed during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that Holder had not apologized to the family of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry months after his shooting death. Two firearms provided by Obama administration agencies to Mexican drug cartels were recovered from te scene of Terry’s murder.
Holder wrote an apology letter to the Terry family days later; but before Brian’s mother Josephine read it, the DOJ had leaked the letter to friendly writers at the Virginia-based media outlet Politico.
Politico printed the letter without challenging Holder on his decision to wait so long before writing or sending it.
Holder has also given an interview to the Obama-friendly New York Times, telling reporter Charlie Savage that Republicans were attacking him as a means of attacking Obama.
“This is a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him,” Holder told Savage, who printed the comment without challenging it. “Both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.”
When he gave the New York Times interview, it wasn’t an election year yet, and Holder had been wrangling with Issa and Grassley for only about 10 months.
Savage later violated his publication’s ethics code by reporting false information about supposed Fast and Furious-related negotiations he said were ongoing between House Speaker John Boehner and Holder’s DOJ. In fact, no such negotiations existed.