Former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Trump administration was wrong to have apologized to tea party groups snared in the IRS’s targeting scandal, saying it was another example of the new team undercutting career people at the Justice Department who’d initially cleared the IRS of wrongdoing.
“That apology was unnecessary, unfounded and inconsistent, it seems to me, with the responsibilities that somebody who would seek to lead the Justice Department should have done,” Mr. Holder said.
He’d ordered a criminal probe into the IRS’s handling of tea party applications after the 2013 revelation by an inspector general that the tax agency had subjected conservative groups to intrusive and inappropriate scrutiny when they applied for nonprofit status.
That probe eventually cleared the IRS, saying that while there was bungling, there was no ill intent. the probe specifically cleared former IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner, saying rather than a problem, she was actually a hero, reporting bad practices when she spotted them.
The Justice Department reversed that finding, though, in settlements reached with tea party groups over the last year that singled Ms. Lerner out as having approved of the intrusive behavior and yet hidden the practices from her supervisors in Washington.
Mr. Holder also said Wednesday said that while he wouldn’t criticize the process used to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, President Trump’s decision to do so was a “misuse” of the power.
The case that eventually led to Mr. Arpaio’s conviction for criminal contempt of court was originally brought while Mr. Holder was in charge of the Justice Department. Mr. Holder said that prosecution was “appropriate,” and the court proceedings were fair as well, so the pardon was misplaced.
“I think it was a misuse of the pardon process in that regard,” he told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Mr. Trump issued a pardon last summer — still the first and only full pardon of his term — to Mr. Arpaio, who has since announced his bid to run for U.S. Senate.