Holder pressed on Petraeus scandal

Republicans are turning up the heat on Eric Holder — again. 

Top-ranking GOP lawmakers in the House are pressing the attorney general to answer questions about his role in the FBI investigation that led to David Petraeus stepping down as head of the CIA. 

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On Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller made the rounds, briefing members in the House and Senate in an attempt to assuage worries about why Congress was not told of the probe before Election Day. The FBI is within the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Holder reportedly learned about the FBI’s investigation, which began as early as June, around the end of the summer. But he did not share the information, which involved emails sent to and from Petraeus’s personal account, with either President Obama or members of Congress until last week.

Mueller’s presence at Wednesday’s briefings signals the gravity with which the agency is treating the situation. Mueller is acting as a surrogate of sorts for Holder, according to a law enforcement official, speaking anonymously because of the sensitive nature of the investigation. 

Initially, only FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce was slated to brief lawmakers. But Mueller met with the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence committees as well as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The law enforcement official said that Holder has also held talks with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the House Intelligence panel.

Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.), however, have called on Holder to provide members with more details about the depth of the investigation, as well as a timeline of events. 

Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Holder this week with 15 questions asking him when the DOJ decided to tell Obama and what obligations the department was under to give the president such a briefing. Smith has requested a response by Nov. 26. Smith’s office said he would then decide whether to call Holder to testify.

A spokeswoman for Wolf, the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the DOJ’s budget, told The Hill that he was interested in having Holder testify before a bicameral select committee that he has asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to create in order to most efficiently look into the matter. 

“Reportedly, Holder knew about this investigation for months but chose not to disclose it until after the presidential election, yet another example of Mr. Holder’s politicized leadership of the Justice Department,” Wolf said in his letter to Boehner. “There are serious questions surrounding this Justice Department’s integrity, similar to those raised during the second term of the Nixon administration.”

Top Democrats have split on whether the FBI or the DOJ should have been more forthcoming with the existence of an investigation looking into the personal affairs of the official in charge of American intelligence and national security. 

While Feinstein has chafed at not being told sooner about the probe, Obama told reporters on Wednesday that the FBI and the DOJ acted appropriately by not informing him earlier, because it would have forced him to act prematurely. 

“One of the challenges here is we’re not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations, and that’s been our practice,” Obama said at his first post-election news conference. 

“It is also possible that had we been told, then you’d be sitting here asking, ‘Why were you interfering in a criminal investigation?’ I think it’s best right now for us to just see how this whole process is unfolding,” Obama said.

In response to a question from The Hill, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters following his briefing with Mueller and acting CIA Director Mike Morell that he would call Holder in to testify if it were necessary, saying it was still too early to make that decision.

“Not unless it’s relevant,” said Ruppersberger of whether Holder should testify. “We don’t oversee the Justice Department unless it has to do with working with the FBI on some national type of security issue. 

“We have to look at a timeline, and part of the questions will be: When did this start? How did you get the information? Was it the basis for an investigation? Who did you talk to? Were you working with prosecutors? All of these issues have to be looked at.”

In brief remarks made to The Hill, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said she did not think Holder needed to testify about his role in the FBI’s investigation.

Holder has taken a considerable amount of heat from Republicans in this Congress, as Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) investigated the DOJ’s involvement in the failed gun-tracking operation known as “Fast and Furious.” Earlier this year, Issa led a successful vote, which attracted 17 Democrats, to place Holder in contempt of Congress for not turning over internal DOJ documents that he had requested as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.