Long before news broke on Monday that Justice had gathered extensive phone records from reporters and editors at The AP, Mr. Holder already had been scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon.
The hearing, ironically titled “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice,” now will become the first forum for House Republicans to hammer Mr. Holder over what critics are calling another stunning abuse of power by an administration that’s being crushed under the growing weight of multiple running scandals.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who has frequently clashed with the Justice Department over the long-running “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scandal, also is demanding answers.
“Americans should notice that top Obama administration officials increasingly see themselves as above the law and emboldened by the belief that they don’t have to answer to anyone,” Mr. Issa, California Republican, said in a statement. “I will work with my fellow House chairmen on an appropriate response to Obama administration officials.”
Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, told The Hill newspaper that the incident is reminiscent of Watergate.
“It is the arrogance of power and paranoia. I think it’s shocking. It reminds me of the Nixon days,” he said. ‘If they can do it to The AP, they can do [it] to any news service in the country.”
The AP broke the news Monday that the Justice Department had gathered two months of telephone records from April and May 2012. The records included incoming and outgoing calls, how long each call lasted, the phone numbers of various reporters and editors and other information.
The federal government reportedly was seeking information on a May 7, 2012, AP article detailing how the CIA had derailed a planned al Qaeda-linked group. The story was published a day before President Obama planned to publicly announce the attack had been foiled, the AP said.
Much like the response to recent revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, even Democrats are taking aim at the White House over the AP phone scandal.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said he’s “very troubled” by the news and questions whether the Justice Department truly needed to resort to secretly gathering phone records.
“The burden is always on the government when they go after private information — especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources,” he said. “I want to know more about this case, but on the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden.”