Conservative politicians are piggybacking on Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.’s troubles to raise money or their profiles. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went so far as to post a political attack ad-style fundraising pitch on his campaign website accusing the nation’s top law enforcement officer of "wiretapping journalists."
The message was hastily changed to accuse Holder of "seizing phone records" after an NLJ reporter asked Cruz’s press office to substantiate that statement. His office did not otherwise respond to questions about the page.
Anti-Holder fervor lately has centered on the Justice Department’s seizure of phone records from the Associated Press via a subpoena. DOJ has also come under fire for obtaining a search warrant that targeted the emails of a Fox News reporter. In the AP case, prosecutors insisted that the government didn’t obtain the content of any phone call.
Holder has said he had recused himself from making the final decision on whether to seize the AP phone logs. While there have been requests for him to prove that statement, there’s no evidence that he personally signed off on the subpoena. DOJ has acknowledged Holder’s participation in the decision to execute a search warrant against emails belonging to Fox reporter James Rosen.
The controversies appeared to be hurting Holder’s reputation with the public. A poll released on Wednesday suggested that Holder’s popularity is suffering amid intense criticism from news organizations and Republicans and Democrats in Congress about how the Justice Department handled leak investigations and targeted news gatherers.
Only the Internal Revenue Service fared worse in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Only 10 percent held a favorable view of attorney general, compared to 32 percent with a negative view. (43 percent did not know Holder or did not express an opinion.)
Cruz, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, took to social media on June 3 to promote his web page calling for Holder’s resignation. The Tea Party-backed senator, who formerly ran the Supreme Court and appellate practice at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, used his personal Twitter account to spread the word that "it’s past time for Eric Holder to go." More than 1,400 people retweeted Cruz’s post, meaning that potentially tens of thousands of people saw the tweet.
The page, www.tedcruz.org/eric-holder-should-resign, includes a black and white photo of Holder with the word RESIGN stamped in red on top of it. There is a petition to demand Holder’s resignation. At the bottom, under a video clip of Cruz calling for Holder’s resignation on Fox News, is a "donate" button. That takes you to another page that says: "Please make a generous contribution right now and help Ted Cruz push for the resignation of Eric Holder."
Other Republicans were pressing their gripes about the attorney general on talk shows. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) confessed Monday on The Laura Ingraham Show that his vote to confirm Holder in early 2009 was "the worst vote I ever took in the Senate." He later went on Fox News’ On the Record with Greta Van Susteren to explain that comment.
"Anytime I’m wrong I like to admit it, just like Eric Holder ought to do in terms of investigations of the press," Isakson said, referring to allegations from House Republicans that Holder lied to Congress about pursuing prosecutions against journalists in leak cases.
Isakson went on to say that the best letter he’s ever written was one asking Holder to resign. His office made the clip a featured video on Isakson’s official Senate website.
House Republicans are investigating whether Holder, in testimony in May, misled members of Congress when he denied being involved in the potential prosecution of a reporter in a leak investigation. Critics, pointing to Holder’s involvement in the Rosen search warrant, contend the attorney general may have committed perjury.
The Justice Department has refuted the Republicans’ claim that Holder misled Congress. In a letter to House Judiciary Committee members on June 3, Justice lawyer Peter Kadzik said the AG’s testimony was "accurate and consistent" with the facts of the leak investigation in which Rosen’s emails were seized as evidence.
"As the attorney general explained, these prosecutions focus on those who ‘break their oath and put the American people at risk, not reporters who gather this information,’" Kadzik wrote.
The flap over Holder’s congressional testimony will be one of the big topics this week during the Talkers New York 2013 conference, a gathering of about 500 radio broadcasters, including Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, Politico reported on Wednesday.
Sirius XM’s David Webb, the host of a daily call-in conservative show, told the Washington news organization that he expects a lot of discussion about what the Justice Department’s actions in the leak investigations mean for the radio talk show profession.
"On the political side, you’ll hear a lot about the AP, about journalists and defending the First Amendment right, which we practice on a daily basis," Webb said. "And we do that on behalf of not just our listeners, but all Americans, because this is our right, it’s our First Amendment."
Todd Ruger can be contacted at email@example.com.