Republicans sharply criticized Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Sunday for his handling of an investigation into a possible leak of classified information to a Fox News reporter, suggesting that Holder lied to Congress last month in testifying that he was unaware of any potential prosecutions of journalists.
Republican critics said Holder was aware of a search warrant in 2010 for emails from Fox News’ James Rosen that called him a possible co-conspirator in the investigation and a risk to flee the country. Those terms suggested that Rosen would be prosecuted, Republicans said, though he has not been.
The Justice Department has said the decision to seek the search warrant was vetted at the highest levels of the department and that Holder was involved in the discussions.
“It would be kind to say he misled Congress,” Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It would be less kind and more accurate to say that would rise to be a lie by most people’s standards, by the American people’s standards.”
But Issa stopped short of saying Holder perjured himself before Congress.
“Perjury is a criminal charge that has to be proven,” Issa said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Sunday his panel was investigating a “very troublesome” conflict in Holder’s testimony last month in light of later reports about the Rosen search warrant.
Holder and his top aides met with journalists and their lawyers last week.
Justice Department officials have promised not to try to prosecute journalists for reporting and writing articles that might disclose classified information. Holder and his deputies also said they were reviewing department guidelines for how prosecutors seek information from journalists.
At a May 15 judiciary subcommittee hearing on the issue, Holder said, “With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I’ve ever been involved and heard of or would think would be a wise policy.”
On Sunday, Goodlatte declined to say if his committee was investigating Holder for perjury.
“It is fair to say we are investigating the conflict in his remarks,” Goodlatte said. “Those remarks were made under oath. … We will wait to pass judgment on that until after we receive his response.”
Democrats on Sunday defended Holder, saying the search warrant was an investigative tool and did not indicate an impending prosecution of Rosen.
“There’s been no prosecution or attempted prosecution of any journalists so there can’t be perjury,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told NBC. “I don’t think any good criminal lawyer would say there’s a scintilla of evidence of perjury.”
Obama adviser David Plouffe said he did not think Holder should be forced to resign. “I think, if anything, he’s guilty of overzealously trying to uphold the law,” Plouffe told ABC.