The U.S. Justice Department today defended the accuracy of Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.’s testimony about his role in leak prosecutions, refuting the notion among critics that he misled members of Congress and opened himself up to a potential perjury charge.
The dispute centers on whether Holder lied when he told the House Judiciary Committee on May 15 that he had never taken part in the potential prosecution of a journalist for the disclosure and publication of classified information. Holder said then that the prosecution of a journalist “is not something that I have never been involved in, heard of, or would think would be a wise policy."
DOJ, however, later acknowledged that Holder approved a search warrant in 2010 targeting the emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen. Prosecutors charged a government contractor, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, with leaking information about North Korea to Rosen. The reporter, however, identified in a search warrant affidavit as a "co-conspirator," was never charged.
In a letter sent today to House Judiciary Committee members, a Justice Department lawyer said Holder's testimony was "accurate and consistent" with the facts of the investigation and prosecution of Kim, who is set to appear in court Tuesday morning in Washington for a status conference in the leak case.
"As the attorney general explained, these prosecutions focus on those who 'break their oath and put the American people at risk, not reporters who gather this information," Peter Kadzik, principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in the letter today to Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Kadzik of the Office of Legislative Affairs, also said: "At no time during the pendency of this matter—before or after seeking the search warrant—have prosecutors sought criminal charges against the reporter."
Kadzik's letter was a response to a request from Goodlatte and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) about Justice Department policies when it comes to investigations that involve reporters. Republicans specifically asked Holder to address the Rosen case.
Goodlatte and Sensenbrenner said today the Justice Department's answer was not good enough because it did not come directly from Holder. "By having a subordinate send this response rather than Attorney General Holder himself, this response begs the question of whether Holder has something to hide," Goodlatte said in a statement. "Discrepancies in Attorney General Holder’s congressional testimony made on the record need to be corrected on the record to Congress by Attorney General Holder himself."
Goodlatte said Holder "can’t outsource the responsibility for his actions to lower level staff—the buck stops with him."
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the Justice Department response "makes it abundantly clear that the Attorney General did not intentionally mislead the Judiciary Committee when he testified at our oversight hearing several weeks ago."
Conyers said the committee, rather than "challenging and disrespecting the Attorney General's good faith" in the Rosen matter, "should engage in real and meaningful oversight and consider legislation regarding the First Amendment as it applies to the press in leak investigations.”
Holder last week began meetings with editors and reporters as the Justice Department looks to review policies concerning investigations that involve the media.
"The Attorney General takes the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by those who have committed to protecting it very seriously, especially as such disclosures can cause grave damage to our national security," Kadzik said in the letter to Congress today. "The Attorney General also has the utmost respect for the vital role the media plays in an open society."