Not since Watergate's John Mitchell has a U.S. attorney general prepared for a Senate appearance under fire on as many different fronts as Eric H. Holder Jr. will face on April 14 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He deserves to feel the heat.
On Friday, Sens. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, and Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, sent Mr. Holder a letter blasting him not just for failing to turn over key briefs to the committee, but also for seeming to obfuscate his true analysis of the subject covered in two of them. That subject - the detainment and trial of known and suspected terrorists - becomes more controversial with every passing day because of what the senators called "national security risks associated with putting terrorists into our civilian criminal justice system."
According to Mr. Kyl and Mr. Sessions, "We are troubled that, as Attorney General, you appear to have minimized and understated these risks in an effort to justify the administration's flawed detention, interrogation and prosecution policies."
This is particularly important because at least nine Justice Department officials, including Mr. Holder, did legal work on behalf of detainees, and at least five others (and probably more) had to recuse themselves from certain cases because of their former law firms' work for terrorism suspects. It's reasonable to ask if any of them shared the mindset of, or even participated in, a detainee-lawyer scheme to provide the terrorism suspects with inflammatory information about the scope and tenor of American interrogations of other suspects. As The Washington Times' Bill Gertz reported last week, some of these efforts involved "photographing CIA interrogators and showing the pictures to prisoners, an effort CIA officials say threatens the officers' lives."
Mr. Holder also released Bush-era interrogation memos in a way that drew a sharp rebuke from seven former CIA directors of both parties. He allowed his Office of Professional Responsibility to so overtly abuse ordinary standards in ginning up "professional misconduct" charges against two Bush administration lawyers who helped shape the interrogation program that OPR drew a strong rebuke from the senior career attorney in the Justice Department.
Just last week, Mr. Holder told a House committee that there's no way his policies would result in Osama bin Laden appearing in an American courtroom because he would be killed rather than captured alive. That drew an angry rebuttal from the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who said of course the military would be glad to capture the al Qaeda leader.
On other subjects, Mr. Holder has inflamed racial tensions by calling Americans "a nation of cowards" about racial issues, has allowed his department to tell black residents of Kinston, N.C., that they are too stupid to hold the nonpartisan elections they chose in a referendum, and stonewalled congressmen and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission after dropping already-won voter-intimidation cases against the New Black Panther Party.
No wonder the senators think it is Mr. Holder who deserves to be sharply interrogated.