Updated June 21
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. appears to have successfully parried at least one political attack against him—questions over whether he misled Congress about his role in investigating and prosecuting journalists in leak cases.
In a letter to Congress Wednesday, Holder personally detailed why the U.S. Justice Department branded Fox News reporter James Rosen a "co-conspirator" in court records filed in a leak prosecution in Washington.
Holder had testified before a House committee May 15 that prosecuting a journalist in a leak case is "not something that I have ever been involved in." A few days after that testimony, NBC News reported that Holder signed off on a search warrant seeking emails from Rosen. The application documented crimes that Rosen, who was not charged, may have committed in his communication with a State Department contractor.
Republicans, raising the notion that Holder may have committed perjury, demanded answers from the attorney general himself for the apparent discrepancy. They were unsatisfied with the response they'd earlier received from one of Holder's deputies, Peter Kadzik, in the Office of Legislative Affairs. Holder delivered in Wednesday’s letter.
"In order to proceed under the Privacy Protection Act, the government was required to establish that there was probable cause to believe that the reporter had committed or was committing a criminal offense to which the needed materials related," Holder wrote.
"As explained in our prior letters, the government's decision to seek this search warrant was an investigative step, and at no time during this matter have prosecutors sought approval from me to bring criminal charges against the reporter," Holder wrote.
Holder noted that a grand jury did charge the State Department contractor, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, for allegedly disclosing classified material about North Korea. Rosen was neither charged nor named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the indictment against Kim, whose case is pending.
Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) issued a joint statement late Wednesday night that said they will meet with Holder on Capitol Hill in the next few days.
But their response did not keep pressing the idea that Holder had misled Congress, which had become a key Republican criticism and even became part of a campaign fundraising effort for Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
"We found several of the Attorney General's answers troubling, including his acknowledgement that the Department of Justice regulations do not explicitly cover the procedures for gathering emails belonging to members of the media and the Department’s interpretation of the Privacy Protection Act of 1980," the statement from Goodlatte and Sensenbrenner said.
The congressmen also criticized Holder for taking so long to personally answer the oversight questions. The letter came four weeks after the congressmen asked for answers.
"It is perplexing that he found it necessary to dodge our questions for so long," Goodlatte and Sensenbrenner's statement said.
This post was updated to clarify Holder's testimony.