By Bernie Becker - 01/29/14 09:50 PM EST
Attorney General Eric Holder assured lawmakers on Wednesday that no final decision has been made about whether to file any criminal charges in the Internal Revenue Service targeting controversy.
"All the options that we have are on the table, given the fact that there has not been a determination, either to bring charges or to decline the case," Holder said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Holder also defended a Justice Department attorney who is playing a crucial role in the investigation into the IRS, and has donated thousands of dollars to Democratic causes in recent years.
"I think the investigation's being done by career people who have constitutional rights to engage in political activity," Holder said.
"The men and women of the Justice Department have, from time immemorial, put aside whatever their political leanings are and conducted investigations in a way that rely only on the facts and the law."
Holder faced sharp questioning from a string of GOP senators over the IRS controversy, which broke close to nine months ago.
The agency apologized in May 2013 for its treatment of conservative groups, around the same time a Treasury inspector general report outlined the IRS's actions.
"In the 280 days since that inspector general report, nobody has been indicted, not a single person," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said at the hearing.
Congressional committees are continuing to investigate the targeting, on a separate track from the criminal investigation.
Many Democrats have insisted there's no evidence of political motivation behind the targeting.
But Republican senators at the hearing sounded off on the state of the investigation, recounting reports from Tea Party groups that have said they have not heard from federal agents.
"When your department was asked to step in and investigate, no one has been held accountable for this abuse," Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Holder.
Cruz and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also suggested Holder appoint a special prosecutor to look into the case. GOP lawmakers had originally been cool to that idea, in large part because Holder, who has a largely toxic relationship with congressional Republicans, would have appointment power.
But the attorney general said Wednesday there's no current reason to believe a special prosecutor is necessary.