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May 252013

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department stopped short of saying that Attorney General Eric Holder O.K.’d the investigation into Fox News reporter James Rosen. But critics have seized on a comment Holder made last week, asking if the attorney general misled Congress.

The Obama administration has been criticized for reportedly seizing Rosen’s emails and phone records, and for tracking his movement in and out of the State Department through security-badge records, as it investigated possible leaks of information about North Korea. Last week’s Washington Post report added fuel to an already controversial time for the Justice Department, which seized phone records of Associated Press reporters and offices.

In a statement on Friday, the Justice Department said the Rosen investigation had been approved “at the highest levels” of the Justice Department, including “discussions with the Attorney General.”

Here’s how the department explained its decision to investigate Rosen, in a background statement:

The Department takes seriously the First Amendment right to freedom of the press.  In recognition of this, the Department took great care in deciding that a search warrant was necessary in the Kim matter, vetting the decision at the highest levels of the Department, including discussions with the Attorney General.  After extensive deliberations, and after following all applicable laws, regulations and policies, the Department sought an appropriately tailored search warrant under the Privacy Protection Act.  And a federal magistrate judge made an independent finding that probable cause existed to approve the search warrant.

Attorney General Holder understands the concerns that have been raised by the media and has initiated a reevaluation of existing Department policies and procedures.  This review will include extensive engagement with representatives of the media.  The Department must strike the appropriate balance between its obligation to enforce the laws preventing leaks of classified information and First Amendment rights, and, through a new media shield law and appropriate updates to the Department’s internal guidelines, we are committed to achieving that balance.

When Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on May 15, four days before the Post reported on the Rosen investigation, Holder expressed skepticism of prosecuting reporters, as lawmakers asked him about the AP probe.

“You’ve got a long way to go to try to prosecute people — the press for the publication of that material,” Holder told the committee, according to a transcript service.

But he also said that he had never been aware of potential prosecutions of reporters.

“Well, I would say this. With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I’ve ever been involved in, heard of or would think would be a wise policy,” Holder said, responding to Georgia Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson’s suggestion that reporters’ First Amendment rights should be protected.

The Rosen leak was part of another prosecution — of the alleged leaker — but the Justice Department did suggest, in seeking a warrant for Rosen’s Gmail account, that he may have broken the law.

FBI agent Reginald Reyes wrote in an affidavit that “there is probably cause to believe that the Reporter has committed or is committing a violation of section 793(d), as an aider and abbettor and/or co-conspirator, to which the materials relate.”

Conservatives have seized on Holder’s comment, asking if the attorney general lied to Congress when he made it. Fox’s Karl Rove has asked that question, as have Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey and’s Katie Pavlich.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Feb 282013

Chris Graythen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — In an exclusive interview with ABC’s Pierre Thomas on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed concern about the president and his workload.

“I worry about him sometimes, you know, because he’s the one guy who can’t get away,” said Holder.

“He’s a serious person, he takes these matters extremely seriously,” he continued. “I think he understands how this wears, has the potential to wear people down.”

Holder noted that Obama still is “the same guy that I think he was four years ago.”

Thomas asked Holder if the president is his friend, his colleague, or his boss.

“He’s all of those things,” Holder answered.

As the government’s top prosecutor, Holder is expected to maintain some distance from the president and his aides to avoid the appearance of politics affecting the Justice Department’s legal decisions.

“There has been a distancing because as attorney general, I have to be independent,” said Holder, before noting, “I look forward to the days when we can just be Eric and Barack again and hang out.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Feb 282013

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General Eric Holder shrugged off the House’s move to hold him in contempt last year because he didn’t respect the votes by those who chose to do so.

In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview on Wednesday, ABC News’ Pierre Thomas asked Holder how he reacted when House Republicans voted with 17 Democrats to hold him in contempt of Congress last June over the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ “Fast and Furious” gun scandal.

“It’s something that I think was unfortunate,” Holder said.  “I think it’s a result of this kind of partisan sport that I think we engage in here in Washington far too often.”

Holder said the votes didn’t bother him, considering who cast them.

“But I have to tell you that for me to really be affected by what happened, I’d have to have respect for the people who voted in that way,” he told ABC News.  “And I didn’t, so it didn’t have that huge an impact on me.”

All but three House Republicans voted to hold Holder in contempt.  Two of them, Reps. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, and Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., have since left Congress — meaning Holder does (or did) not respect most of the current Republican House delegation.

Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., voted against holding Holder in contempt, and House Speaker John Boehner didn’t vote, meaning Holder’s blanket statement does not apply to those two.

At issue was Holder’s compliance with a House subpoena to turn over documents related to the ATF’s Fast and Furious program to disseminate and track guns in Mexico.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., spearheaded the crusade against Holder and the Fast and Furious program, repeatedly accusing the attorney general of obscuring facts and refusing to comply with his investigation, and insinuating that top officials at the department, including Holder, likely knew about the program before terminating it.

The Justice Department maintained that it had consistently complied with Issa’s requests and that it had produced every kind of document typically handed over under such circumstances.

Holder took another jab at Republicans when asked about the current partisan stalemate over deficit reduction and the looming automatic budget cuts, which Holder says will interfere with vital law-enforcement missions and endanger U.S. security.

When asked about how much of the blame Obama’s administration deserves, Holder said he wasn’t sure “it’s an awful lot.”

“I mean, I think this president came into office with the notion that he wanted to change how Washington does business.  I think this president has extended his hand on any number of occasions,” he said.

“And I think we’ve seen too often the opposition not being what I would call a responsible opposition party, but a part that simply is opposed to anything the president has wanted to do,” Holder said.  “And I think that has led to partisan gridlock that the American people are not satisfied with and that frankly does not serve the interests of this nation.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Feb 282013

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama has “evolved” on gay marriage, his administration opposes the federal law against it, and now, Attorney General Eric Holder says it’s the next big civil rights issue.

In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview on Wednesday, ABC’s Pierre Thomas asked Holder how the Justice Department will approach the U.S. Supreme Court challenge to California’s Prop. 8 marriage ban.

While Holder declined to hint whether his department would take sides by filing a brief in the case, Holder did address gay marriage as an issue.

“From my perspective, this is really the latest civil rights issue,” Holder told ABC News.  “It is the question of whether or not American citizens are going to be treated with equal protection of the laws.  And so with regard to Prop. 8, we’re in the process now of deciding what position we’re gonna take.”

In a February 2011 letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Holder announced the administration’s intention to drop its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ban on gay marriage — a holdover from the last Justice Department, which had similarly sought to uphold the law.

The Justice Department’s move was seen as a victory for gay rights advocates, who had listed overturning DOMA among a handful of top priorities for the Obama administration since the president took office.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Feb 282013

Chris Graythen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — As the nation’s top law-enforcement officer, Eric Holder is briefed daily on terrorists threats.  He attends meetings in the White House situation room, and he decides when to ask judges for the death penalty.  At night, Holder says, he worries about terrorist threats.

But his worst day on the job came Dec. 20, when he traveled to Newtown, Conn., to meet with first responders and visit the crime scene where gunman Adam Lanza had killed 20 children and six adults with a high-powered rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School six days earlier.

“I was on a trip out of town.  [FBI Director] Bob Mueller called me and said that there had been a really horrific shooting in Connecticut.  And he said, ‘It’s really bad, Eric.  It’s really, really bad,’” Holder said Wednesday in a wide-ranging exclusive interview with ABC’s Pierre Thomas.

Discussing his personal experience with Newtown at length, Holder detailed how he first heard of the shooting.  When it happened, Holder was in Tulsa, Okla., for a ceremony honoring the new U.S. attorney for the state’s Northern District.

“We turned on the news to get a sense of what had happened, and Bob called back and started to give me some numbers and then said, ‘And it looks like it’s little kids,’” Holder said.  “I understood at that point, given both the numbers and who the victims were, that we were dealing with something unlike anything we’d ever seen before.”

Walking through the crime scene, Holder said, was the most difficult moment of his career.

“The worst day I’ve had as attorney general was the day that I went up to Sandy Hook to say thanks to the first responders and to the people who were the first on the scene,” he said.

“And I have to tell you that walking through Sandy Hook Elementary School and going into those classrooms and seeing the caked blood, seeing the crime scene photos of these little angels was the most difficult thing that I’ve ever had to do in my professional life,” Holder said, describing how both he and the first responders struggled unsuccessfully to hold back tears.

“There were tears from me, from the first responders, from the crime scene search officers,” Holder said.  He “had a pretty emotional ride, after I left the school, going back to the airport.”

The attorney general helped the administration draft its set of gun-control proposals as a part of Vice President Joe Biden’s working group.  That effort has stalled as congressional Republicans have rejected many of the proposed measures, including a reinstated assault-weapons ban and limits on magazine capacity.

In his interview with ABC News, Holder reiterated his bosses’ call for new gun-control measures.  The FBI, he said, is looking for ways to sooner identify potential mass shooters.

“I think what we as an administration, we as a nation have said is, ‘Enough is enough,’ that there are limits to how far we should go and that we should come up with really common-sense, responsible ways in which we deal with this problem.  And that’s what we have proposed,” Holder said.

“We have done, I think, a pretty good job in identifying those who might be susceptible to terrorist entreaties and become homegrown violent extremists.  I think we need to apply some of those techniques to see if we can pick out ahead of time who these potential mass killers are,” he said.  “So it is something that we’re working on.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio