- - Friday, June 8, 2012

What a week it was in Washington. Summer heat has not yet hit, but steam already is rising from Republicans on the Hill as they express outrage over U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s conduct.

Mr. Holder was up on the Hill last week testifying before Congress, again, about the Department of Justice’s gun-tracking Fast and Furious operation. There are allegations of lies and obstruction of justice committed by department employees and claims that the attorney general himself is covering for his staff rather than upholding the U.S. Constitution. Mr. Holder’s recent testimony caused Rep. Paul A. Gosar, Arizona Republican, to declare Mr. Holder is unfit to be America’s attorney general.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, hopes to hold Mr. Holder in congressional contempt over his alleged refusal to share information with the American people and Congress about which department officials were involved in this botched program.

Just a mile or so downtown from the Hill, another shoe quietly dropped this week for the attorney general. On Tuesday, Cause of Action, a Washington-based nonprofit dedicated to government accountability, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for extensive records of Justice’s federal funds provided to states - specifically Maine - with the intention of prosecuting child porn perpetrators and keeping America’s children safe.

Cause of Action’s FOIA states, “Internet crimes against children are the fastest-growing crime in the United States. We therefore write seeking information about the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Divisions’ Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and its funding of Internet Crimes Against Children investigations, specifically as they concern the State of Maine.”

After noting the large amount, perhaps millions of dollars, of the department’s federal funds going to Maine compared with just seven referrals in one year, Cause of Action’s FOIA request states that “one is left to wonder what Maine is doing with the federal money it receives.”

Anyone who follows Maine may have a theory about these missing funds. The state of Maine is, by all accounts, a failed state. Maine received an F for overall corruption risk, 46th out of 50 states in preventive measures. It received an F and ranked the absolute worst in the country for judicial oversight, with zero accountability for judges. Maine received an F on child-trafficking prevention. Trafficking of women and children is one of organized crime’s signature businesses.

Maine indeed it is a miserable state, particularly if you are a child hoping to be kept safe from pedophiles. So it is little surprise to Maine-watchers that millions of Department of Justice federal funds might have gone missing north of Boston.

The real question is: Will Mr. Holder withhold the documents that Cause of Action has just requested related to the potential misuse of funds meant to protect our children? Congressional Republicans allege Mr. Holder has done just that with documents related to Fast and Furious. Will he cover for his staff rather than uphold the Constitution and protect America’s children?

If so, Mr. Holder could be back on the Hill soon facing more Republican heat, this time for obstruction-of-justice allegations related to federal funds meant to protect our children from sexual abuse and exploitation. It just may be that Cause of Action’s quiet little Freedom of Information Act request could result in a very hot summer for Eric Holder and the Department of Justice.

Lori Handrahan is a professor at American University’s School of International Service in Washington and serves on the United Nations’ Interagency Standing Committee Child Protection Working Group.

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