GOP seizes chance to put Holder on trial

Republicans in the Senate are planning to use their first high-profile confirmation hearing to put Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderEric Holder says Trump is subject to prosecution after leaving office Eric Holder: Democrats 'have to understand' that 'borders mean something' Trump lawyers ask judge to toss out Dems' tax return lawsuit MORE on trial.

GOP lawmakers plan to use Wednesday’s examination of Loretta Lynch, the federal prosecutor picked by President Obama to replace Holder as attorney general, to air long-standing grievances with the Obama administration.

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They’ve long seen Holder and Obama as skirting the law on hot-button issues such as immigration, counterterrorism, tax enforcement and drug policies. And the president’s frequent use of executive action and regulation has drawn accusations that he’s exceeding his authority under the Constitution.

“I think there’s an erosion of confidence in the Department of Justice on the fundamental question of whether the attorney general politicizes the office,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Tuesday. “We need an attorney general that won’t politicize the office.”

But while GOP lawmakers are relishing the opportunity to sink their teeth into Holder’s record, they also concede Lynch — barring any misstep — is likely to be confirmed.

Her reputation as being tough on crime has won praise from both sides of the aisle, with Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly calling her a “hero” last week, leaving the White House confident she’ll win over the Senate.

One aide said Tuesday the White House was “looking forward to Mrs. Lynch showing the Senate Judiciary Committee and the American public just why she is so qualified for this position.”

While Lynch’s nomination appears assured, as Democrats need only a handful of Republicans to cross the aisle and support her nomination, she might have trouble staying out of the partisan crossfire at her confirmation hearing.

Republicans will be looking for areas where Lynch will demonstrate distance from Holder, who remains anathema to many on the right, and intend to ask her how she plans to do things differently.

“The Justice Department is a big mess,” said Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), “and we want to know how she’s going to straighten out the department.” 

One of the biggest points of contention will undoubtedly be immigration on the heels of the president’s announcement late last year that he would use prosecutorial discretion to defer deportation for up to 5 million illegal immigrants.

Republican lawmakers have argued the move is unprecedented and extrajudicial, and at least one lawmaker on the Judiciary Committee — Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) — plans to oppose Lynch’s nomination in protest.

Sessions, who also sits on the panel, has been among the Senate’s most outspoken opponents of the president’s executive action. And Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said he’d judge her qualifications for the job based on how she responded to questions about the president’s immigration plan.

Another Judiciary panel member, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said he had two things he wanted Lynch to address: his push for the DOJ to target Internet gambling more aggressively and his concern over efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

The witness list released ahead of the hearing suggests other issues Republicans could use to score points by attacking Holder’s tenure.

The committee has invited former CBS News reporter Sheryl Attkisson, who investigated the Justice Department’s “Fast and Furious” gunrunning program, to appear before the panel. Congress held Holder in contempt for withholding documents from a House panel investigating the program.

After leaving CBS to join the Heritage Foundation, Attkisson filed a $35 million lawsuit against Holder accusing the federal government of spying on her.

Questions about the Justice Department’s treatment of journalists will be amplified by another witness, Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University professor known for having called for Holder’s resignation over the government’s seizure of phone records belonging to The Associated Press.

Holder has since moved to alter department guidelines to offer additional protections to journalists by limiting subpoenas of reporters and news organizations.

But Turley has also led House GOP legal efforts against the White House, charging executive overreach, with Republicans indicating the president’s use of executive power would again be an issue.

“I bet everyone of the 10 [Republican] senators will have a question about executive action,” Grassley said.