The Washington Post just bestowed its “Worst Week in Washington” award on Attorney General Eric Holder, and it’s not hard to see why.
Over the weekend, Senator Joe Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, clearly expressed his lack of confidence in Holder by calling for a special counsel who is independent of the Justice Department to investigate serious leaks of national-security documents. Someone near the president is leaking classified information, and both Democrats and Republicans seem determined to find out who.
But the real blow came last week, when Holder’s carefully constructed stone walls against House investigators started to crumble.
Representative Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced he would initiate contempt-of-Congress proceedings against Holder for not turning over documents related to the committee’s probe of the Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal at Justice. Issa says that more 200 Mexicans and a U.S. Border Patrol agent were murdered with weapons that the U.S. government allowed to be sold to Mexican drug cartels as part of a probe into gun smuggling.
“The Justice Department is out of excuses,” House Speaker John Boehner said in support of Issa’s move. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”
The Justice Department dismissed Issa’s complaints, saying he was “playing political games.” By Friday, though, Holder said he was willing to sit down and negotiate to avoid what he dramatically called “a constitutional crisis.” For his part, Issa said he was willing to delay the contempt vote set for this Wednesday if Justice turns over a large chunk of the documents he has requested. But Issa says he will not back down until he gets to the bottom of Fast and Furious.
Holder’s sudden flexibility after 15 months of evasive maneuvers has two origins. First, sources inside Justice gave Issa a valuable leak last week: six wiretap applications used as part of Fast and Furious. Together, they provide evidence that higher-ups at Justice knew about and approved Fast and Furious, contrary to Holder’s assurances.
During an interview with me in New York last week, Issa pointed out that 31 House Democrats wrote a letter to Holder last year asking for more documents on Fast and Furious. The new revelations have shaken many of those Democrats, and Issa believes, based on a whip count, that many Democrats would ultimately back a contempt-of-Congress motion against Holder. This turnabout by Democrats is the second reason Holder is now promising cooperation. Until now, Holder wanted to wait for Justice’s inspector general to complete his own look at Fast and Furious before turning over more documents to Congress. But that investigation has been under way for 15 months, and there are no signs it will wrap up soon.
Issa’s patience is exhausted. “This is like Iran-contra, like Watergate, and other embarrassments over the years,” he told me. “The major embarrassment is the delay in being honest and open about it.”
The pattern of delay and denial is a familiar one, Issa says. “If you translate the double talk we get [from Justice], it amounts to ‘We will tell you what you need to know to know that we are right,’” he says. “What is the definition of propaganda?”
Attorney General Holder clearly helps President Obama in several ways. His brazen stonewalling of investigations certainly helps Obama postpone any final revelations until after the November elections. His department’s blatant refusal to enforce federal law requiring states to clean up their inaccurate voter-registration records, combined with DOJ lawsuits against state voter-ID laws, must bring smiles to any ACORN-like groups contemplating electoral mischief this fall. Finally, his attempt to contain and effectively delay any probe of the national-security leaks may outrage members of the intelligence community, but the perpetrators of those leaks surely must welcome Holder’s tactics.
With this record, Eric Holder has become, to paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan, the very model of a modern attorney general — thoroughly political. It’s just too bad that such no-holds-barred partisanship has so little to do with real duties of the attorney general: upholding the rule of law, the Constitution, and standards of conduct other attorneys in government are expected to adhere to.
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.