It was supposed to be an opportunity to crow about charges filed against 89 defendants engaged in Medicaid fraud. But, when it came time to ask questions at a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the Justice Department, the only topics reporters wanted to discuss with Attorney General Eric Holder were the controversies swirling around DOJ and the IRS.
Holder explained that he had not signed off on the subpoenas that allowed DOJ to collect phone records from 20 phone lines used by more than 100 Associated Press reporters because he'd recused himself from the case. He had wanted to avoid the "the appearance of a potential conflict of interest and to make sure that the investigation was seen as independent," because he'd been interviewed by the FBI about the disclosure of classified information that led to the AP case.
It was handled instead by Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole, "who would have been the one who ultimately had to authorize the subpoena that went to the AP.” Holder also could not explain why no effort had been made to seek voluntary cooperation in the matter from AP.
"Again, you're getting into matters that are beyond my knowledge," he said. "I was recused in the matter. So I don't know."
Holder announced that he has ordered an investigation into reports that the IRS improperly targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.
"The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the IRS," he said. "Those were, I think, as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable, but we are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations."
Speculation about whether Holder will be able to hold onto his job after this latest controversy has already begun. In addition, lawmakers who would traditionally stand behind him are now finding it difficult.
"I have trouble defending what the DOJ did," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Tuesday. "It's inexcusable. There is no way to justify this."
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(Photo: THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images)