3:40 PM EST There are some lines of questioning that deserve to be highlighted because representatives actually raised critical issues that the Justice Department is responsible for creating and exacerbating. Or, these issues are ones where the Justice Department has the complete ability to take action and hasn’t. I’ll probably put up a post. But, I’m wrapping up coverage here. Thanks for following updates.

3:00 PM EST Rep. Steve Cohen talked about ability of the president to pardon individuals guilty of non-violent drug offenses. He launched into an excellent rant fiercely condemning the Justice Department for waging a War on Drugs that jails people for using drugs. He cited how 52% of public approves of marijuana use now and then said fighting this war is enriching the Mexican drug cartels.

2:55 PM EST Rep. Darrell Issa naturally puts on a good show. Plays a recording of Tom Perez. Attempts a line of questioning and tries to get away with mischaracterizing Holder’s testimony. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee becomes infuriated and tries to stop the playing of the recording. She doesn’t appear to have that power. Fine theatrics, which is the least you can ask for from these hearings.

2:43 PM EST Holder cautions against calling deputy attorney general, Jim Cole, who signed off on seizure of AP phone records, to testify before House Judiciary Committee because he is overseeing an “ongoing investigation.” So, nobody in Justice Department has to answer for decisions around records seizure right now. That’s what it seems.

2:40 PM ESTRep. Spencer Bachus pressed Holder on whether he memorialized when he recused himself. No memo or email was written. Rep. Zoe Lofgren strongly argued that damage had been done to impair freedom of the press as relationships with confidential sources had been chilled.

2:00 PM ESTRep. Nadler appropriately highlighted how GOP members of the committee called for aggressive prosecution of those responsible for leaks last year. They wanted to subpoena reporters, bring them before grand juries and jail them if they did not answer questions. Now, they are upset about the DoJ seizing AP records. But, he said let’s not ignore the critical issues. Let’s examine how the Espionage Act has been used improperly to go after leakers.

1:55 PM EST Rep. Sensenbrenner gets Holder to confirm that deputy AG, Jim Cole, signed off on subpoena for AP records. He apparently didn’t know for certain before the hearing or had planned not to divulge this information with certainty.

1:42 PM EST Holder is asked questions by Goodlatte on AP records seizure by DoJ. He basically repeats what he said yesterday. Completely useless and waste of time to ask him questions. He passed off responsibility to deputy attorney general by recusing himself making it harder for Congress to conduct any oversight because he supposedly has no idea what has gone on in this process. But, he’s been briefed in some respect and he saw the draft form of a response letter to the AP. He knows more than he wants to talk about because he wants to dodge scrutiny.

1:35 PM EST Goodlatte asks, what is DoJ doing to improve use of databases to fight terrorism in aftermath of Boston bombing? Holder says, “Generally FBI did a good job to the extent that it could. Not sure all the requests made to a foreign country were replied to in an adequate manner.” That country would be Russia.

1:30 PM EST Holder reads statement, which can be read here. Commentary on the contents can be found further down in this post.

1:26 PM EST Without deputy attorney general here to testify, it is likely Holder escapes having to give answers on many of the questions about the DoJ’s seizure of AP records.

1:22 PM EST Conyers gives opening remarks. He said he was “troubled by notion that the government would pursue such broad array of phone media records over such a long period of time” from the AP. He indicated he would be reintroducing the federal media shield legislation, Free Flow of Information Act. He said it would require government to show cause before compelling disclosure.

Conyers said the legislation passed with bipartisan support in the 110th and 111th Congress. But, yesterday, Holder said it didn’t pass because the administration “didn’t get the necessary support on the Hill.”

1:17 PM EST “These requests appear to be very broad and intersect important First Amendment protections…” Members of the Committee want to hear an explanation today, Goodlatte says in his opening statement. He notes the IRS scandal.

Original Post

Eric HolderAttorney General Eric Holder will be testifying before the House Judiciary Committee this morning. Recent attention to the seizure of the Associated Press’ telephone records and the targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS has increased the significance of Holder’s appearance before the committee this morning.

The committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), indicates the hearing will focus on the AP phone records’ seizure by the Justice Department and misconduct by the IRS, as well as “the recent bombings in Boston, wasteful spending at the Justice Department, and troubling allegations of the politicization of the Justice Department under Attorney General Holder’s leadership.”

The hearing begins at 1 pm EST and will air on CSPAN3. (Watch it here.)

Holder’s testimony, which he will presumably read in his opening remarks to the committee, is posted. He declares:

Over the past four years, we’ve identified, investigated, and disrupted multiple potential plots involving foreign terrorist organizations as well as homegrown extremists. We’ve secured convictions – and tough sentences – against numerous individuals for terrorism-related offenses. We’ve utilized essential intelligence-gathering and surveillance capabilities in a manner that’s consistent with the rule of law, and with our most treasured values.

Some of the cases he is referring to include cases that were made possible by FBI sting operations, where they essentially have undercover agents go in and target individuals—typically Muslims—who lack the means to carry out any terror plot. The agents assist the the individual in obtaining the means to carry out an attack and, as that person is about to commit the act, he is arrested for trying to commit an act of terrorism.

The use of entrapment schemes to ensnare “terrorists” will likely be ignored entirely by the House Judiciary Committee, but one should understand that this has become an entirely permissible practice in federal law enforcement and, in fact, it means the FBI is creating terrorists while real terrorists like Tamerlan Tsarnaev or Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, are actually plotting attacks.

Also, it is clear Holder does not take issue with how the breadth of intelligence-gathering and surveillance capabilities may be too vast and impairing the ability to combat terrorism. The collection of so much data means that it is more difficult in finding the names of people, who may truly be worth looking into and tracking.

Holder’s statement indicates that he is championing the same aspects of the Justice Department’s civil liberties record which he championed in his news conference yesterday. He highlights the administration’s aggressive record on civil rights, one Republicans on the committee will no doubt force him to defend because this probably what they consider “politicizing” the Justice Department. He calls attention to the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, but, in 2011, prosecutions of financial institutions for fraud were decreasing. And, as David Dayen wrote, the Task Force is ”little more than a press release factory, and no indictment, conviction or settlement is too small.” The Task Force “takes credit for cracking down on Ponzi schemes, insider trading, tax evasion, racketeering, violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (!) and a host of other crimes that have precisely nothing to do with the financial crisis.”

There is nothing in Holder’s statement about prosecuting alleged leakers or investigating leaks, which is a bit surprising given the administration’s aggressive and unprecedented record. It also does not highlight the administration’s “support” for a federal media shield law (which it wanted to gut by reducing the scope of privilege a reporter could claim). That may be a result of the fact that the Committee could be very sympathetic to the Justice Department’s decision to seize AP’s phone records.

During a hearing on July 11, 2012, called “National Security Leaks and the Law,” most members called for action to investigate leaks to the fullest extent of the law and bring to justice whomever was responsible for leaks on Obama’s “kill list,” cyber warfare against Iran and a CIA underwear bomb plot sting operation in Yemen. Kenneth Wainstein, former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush, testified, “The easiest way to make these cases is to just go to the reporter. Either get the reporter’s phone records, email records…” None of the members raised any objection to this nor did they question whether there were safeguards in place to ensure abuses didn’t occur.

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Check back during the hearing for updates. They will appear at the top. Also, follow @kgosztola for updates. And, again, you can watch the hearing here. It begins at 1 pm EST.

Photo released under Public Domain