By Jordy Yager - 05/15/13 07:55 PM EDT
Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday lashed out at Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), calling his conduct “unacceptable and shameful.”
In a tense moment at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Holder clashed with the lawmaker who led the successful vote in the House finding the nation’s top cop in contempt of Congress.
Issa at the time was questioning Holder about the quid pro quo deal the Justice Department’s top civil rights enforcer signed agreeing to drop a False Claims Act case against St. Paul, Minn., in exchange for the city ditching an unconnected case before the Supreme Court.
As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa has been investigating the agreement and the Justice official, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez’s, involvement.
Perez has been nominated to serve as Secretary of Labor and another person involved in the agreement, U.S. attorney for Minnesota B. Todd Jones, has been nominated to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
Issa has asked the DOJ for copies of nearly 1,200 documents that allegedly explore the details of whether the agency’s deal was politically motivated or violated any federal laws.
Issa said his investigative team has seen nearly three dozen emails that relate to the case, but his staff has only seen the “to” and “from” fields in the communications and not the actual contents nor the 1,200 documents that he has requested.
“Will you make them available to the committee base on a bipartisan request?” Issa asked.
Holder said he would look into the request that Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) made last September for the materials.
“It’s not something that I’ve personally been involved in but I will look at the request,” Holder said.
Issa told Holder that he only made the “to” and “from” fields of the emails available to congressional investigators because he was trying to hide the contents of the emails.
The remark prompted Holder to call Issa’s behavior “unacceptable and shameful.”
Undeterred, Issa resumed his line of questioning, citing one email that was allegedly sent to Melanie Barnes, domestic policy counsel at the White House.
The lawmakers contend that the DOJ asked St. Paul city attorneys to drop a Supreme Court case that could have hampered the government’s ability to collect large financial settlements from banks that it sues for housing discrimination.
In return, Issa and Grassley say, the DOJ agreed to drop an unrelated lawsuit against the city, which charged that St. Paul officials were not properly using federal funds geared toward improving low-income job opportunities. If the DOJ had won that case, the government could have recouped as much as $180 million in taxpayer funds, the lawmakers said.
At the Judiciary hearing, Holder also faced tough questions from lawmakers from both parties about the Justice Department's seizure of phone records from Associated Press reporters.
Holder pledged to conduct an after-action review of the DOJ decision after the initial investigation was complete.
Issa led a successful vote last year in the House placing Holder in civil contempt of Congress, after President Obama exerted executive privilege over internal DOJ communications dealing with the aftermath of the failed gun-tracking operation, Fast and Furious.
Also on Wednesday, Grassley took to the Senate floor to slam Perez’s tenure as head of the civil rights division, saying that he “regrets” his confirmation vote in favor of him, while outlining the details of the quid pro quo case for the congressional record.
“The evidence makes clear that Mr. Perez took steps to cover up the fact that he had bartered away the False Claims Act cases,” said Grassley in a floor statement.
“We have to demand that when individuals are called upon to answer questions before the Senate, they shoot straight, regardless of the consequences.
“I do not believe Mr. Perez gave us the straight story when he was called upon to answer questions about this case, and for that reason I will strongly oppose his nomination.”
This story was updated at 4:18 p.m.