CAPITOL HILL - U.S. congressional Democrats and the Obama administration are resisting Republican demands for an independent probe of national security leaks to the news media. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sat Tuesday at the center of the growing firestorm on Capitol Hill, where he rejected a call for his resignation.
Recent months have seen detailed news media accounts of U.S. cyber activities against Iran, anti-terrorist drone operations, and covert U.S. activities in Yemen. Lawmakers of both parties have decried the leaking of classified information that could compromise national security.
What to do about it has become a partisan issue on Capitol Hill. The Justice Department has assigned two federal prosecutors to lead an investigation.
That does not satisfy Republicans like Senator John McCain of Arizona. “Here we are with a very serious breach of national security - in the view of some, the most serious in recent history. And it clearly cries out for the appointment of a special counsel,” McCain said.
Republicans allege that White House officials leaked the information to bolster public awareness and approval of President Barack Obama’s national security record as he runs for re-election - imperiling national security for political gain.
Under such circumstances, Republicans argue the leaks investigation must be removed from the control of the Obama Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he heard repeated Republican demands for a special counsel to lead the probe.
“All I am asking for is for you to find a lawyer in this country that all of us could say - virtually all of us could say - ‘That is the right person to do this job’,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Graham pointed out that, years ago, as senators, both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden called for independent investigations of misdeeds committed during the former Bush administration.
Attorney General Holder defended the integrity and professionalism of the prosecutors assigned to the case. “The two people I have appointed to look into these matters are first-rate prosecutors who will do, I think, a great job,” Holder said.
On the Senate floor, Democrats blocked a Republican motion calling for a special counsel. Meanwhile, at the Judiciary Committee hearing, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy urged patience.
“I think before we prejudge what these U.S. attorneys are going to do, let us see what they do,” Leahy said.
But patience on the Republican side is in short supply, particularly regarding Attorney General Holder. The Republican-led House of Representatives is considering a “contempt of Congress” vote against Holder over the withholding of documents demanded by lawmakers on an unrelated matter.
At the committee hearing, Senator John Cornyn of Texas had a blunt message for America’s top law enforcement official.
“You leave me no alternative but to join those that call upon you to resign your office. Americans deserve an attorney general who will be honest with them. They deserve an attorney general who will uphold the basic standards of political independence and accountability. You have proven time and time again, sadly, that you are unwilling to do so,” Cornyn said.
Given an opportunity to respond, Holder said Cornyn’s statement was “breathtaking” in its inaccuracy.
“So I do not have any intention of resigning,” Holder said.
Holder added that he has repeatedly offered to meet personally with Republican lawmakers to address their concerns relating to the Justice Department. He said Republicans have been unresponsive to these offers - an indication, according to Holder, that they are motivated by partisan political concerns.