As Attorney General Eric Holder prepared to take the hot seat for a Capitol grilling by members of the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday afternoon, African-American leaders weighed in on what got him there.
Veteran congressman and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis said in a statement that he is "deeply disturbed" by news that the Justice Department had secretly obtained Associated Press reporters' phone records. Lewis acknowledged that addressing cybercrime and terrorism "could require more intrusion" than normal, but also puts at risk "the very freedom we are working to protect."
"Freedom of the press is a central principle of our democracy. Government should take care in how it invades this aspect of our civil liberty and take every precaution to respect the dignity and integrity of these institutions and protect the vital role they play in our democracy," the Georgia lawmaker said.
The Justice Department has defended its actions because it involved a national security threat. And, at his daily briefing Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney stressed the need to find a balance between keeping Americans safe and a free press.
"I don't think anyone truly believes that the president has given a sufficient answer for America, much less the press,” Rangel said in an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "I think this is just the beginning. The president has to come forward and share why he did not alert the press that they were going to do this, and he has to tell America, including me, what was this national security question. You just can't raise the flag and expect us to salute it every time for no reason."
In 2004, during former President George W. Bush's administration, the NAACP was the target of an IRS probe into its tax-exempt status that resulted in a two-year legal battle.
Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond and the organization's current president, Ben Jealous, have expressed distinctly different views of the news that the agency targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status during the last two election cycles.
Bond, who considered the agency's actions a serious threat to the NAACP, believes that the scrutiny it gave tea party groups was "entirely legitimate" because they've been "overtly political" and vocal about their opposition to President Obama.
"They are the Taliban wing of American politics and we all ought to be a little worried about them," Bond said in an interview on MSNBC.
When asked if he was being too harsh, Bond said that the "truth hurts."
Jealous took a more tempered position. He said in a statement Wednesday that the IRS's actions "cannot be tolerated in a free society" and praised Obama for acknowledging "the need for a full and comprehensive investigation."
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