Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole has until the end of business Friday to tell a House committee how and when his boss, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., recused himself in the Justice Department’s subpoena of two months of telephone records of at least 20 reporters and editors at The Associated Press.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican who leads the panel’s subcommittee on crime, terrorism, homeland security and investigations, want to know whether Mr. Holder committed perjury when he told the committee under oath May 15 he knew AP had secretly been targeted but he was “not familiar with the way the subpoena had been structured.”
Mr. Holder testified that his knowledge of sensitive information in the case made him a potential leaker and required that he remove himself from the probe. He said he was interviewed by the FBI in the AP leak.
During an often rancorous Judiciary Committee hearing, Mr. Holder said the AP subpoena was approved by Mr. Cole in the search for the source of a leak of national security information that described a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen. He said that while the leak was “very, very serious” and had “put the American people at risk,” he did not remember when he recused himself from the investigation, did not put his recusal in writing, and never told the White House.
In their letter, Mr. Goodlatte and Mr. Sensenbrenner asked Mr. Cole to document what day Mr. Holder had recused himself from the investigation; to explain how Mr. Cole learned of the recusal; to say whether Mr. Holder had specifically told Mr. Cole of his intent to recuse himself from the inquiry; and to say whether the recusal was made in writing or memorialized in any manner.
The lawmakers also asked Mr. Cole to say whether every Justice Department official or employee who had information on the foiled terrorist plot recused himself; whether every department official or employee interviewed by the FBI in connection with the investigation recused himself; whether Mr. Cole possessed the improperly disclosed information; and, if so, whether he was interviewed by the FBI in connection with this investigation.
“If you do possess the information at issue in this investigation, why were you not required to also recuse yourself?” the letter asks.
The letter says the Justice Department issued subpoenas for several telephone lines accessible to and used by a large number of reporters, and asks what steps the department took, if any, to narrow the scope of the telephone toll records request to ensure that only those records made by the subject reporters and staff were obtained.
The Justice Department also issued subpoenas for a telephone line located in the House of Representatives Press Gallery.
“Are there any statutes, regulations or internal Justice Department policies applicable to requests for telephone toll records for a telephone located inside the U.S. Capitol complex, even if such telephone line is paid for by a media outlet?” the letter asks.
The letter also noted that at the House oversight hearing, Mr. Holder “repeatedly stated” he could not answer questions about the subpoenas because he “lacked any knowledge of the investigation due to his recusal.”
“As acting attorney general for this investigation, you are in the best position to answer our questions in this matter,” it said.
Mr. Cole, a longtime friend of Mr. Holder’s as well as the No. 2 official at Justice, has been put on the spot in the past with regard to Congressional concerns over Mr. Holder’s actions.
In July 2012, he told House Speaker John A. Boehner the Justice Department would take no action in response to a Contempt of Congress citation brought against Mr. Holder for his refusal to turn over documents requested as part of a House oversight investigation into the botched “Fast and Furious” gunrunning investigation.
In a letter to the House speaker, Mr. Cole said Mr. Holder’s refusal to turn over Fast and Furious documents sought under subpoena did not constitute a crime and, as a result, the department would not bring the contempt citation before a grand jury “or take any other action to prosecute the attorney general.”
President Obama, who pledged during his presidential campaign to run the “most open and transparent administration in history,” had asserted executive privilege in refusing to turn over documents subpoenaed by the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee in its Fast and Furious probe. The claim forced the panel to vote to recommend that Mr. Holder be held in contempt.
In addition to Mr. Goodlatte and Mr. Sensenbrenner, their May 23 letter was signed by Republican Reps. Mark E, Amodei of Nevada, Spencer Bachus of Alabama, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Doug Collins of Georgia, Ron DeSantis of Florida, J. Randy Forbes of Virginia, Louie Gohmert of Texas, George Holding of North Carolina, Darrell E. Issa of California, Raul R. Labrador of Idaho, Ted Poe of Texas and Lamar Smith of Texas.