Leahy Defends FBI Director When He Won't Answer Questions About IRS Targeting Probe

Barbara Boland
By Barbara Boland | May 22, 2014 | 10:39 AM EDT

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) cited Watergate when grilling FBI Director James Comey with questions about why the FBI has not indicted (or apparently, even questioned) anyone in its investigation of IRS targeting of conservative groups.

During a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Comey gave a pat non-answer to Cruz's questions: that he could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

"I want to talk to you about the IRS targeting of American citizens, and what I view as the persistent stonewalling from the administration on this matter," Cruz said.

"It has been 372 days, just over a year since President Obama and Attorney General Holder both publicly stated that they were outraged at the IRS's improper targeting of conservative groups and individuals

"Indeed President Obama said at the time he was angry - and the American people have a right to be angry. If he was telling the truth that the American people had a right to be angry 372 days ago, the stonewalling and lack of action that has occurred for over a year gives the American people a right to be even more than angry."

"One year ago tomorrow Lois Lerner the senior official who led this targeting pleaded the 5th and yet, despite the passage of time, very little has happened. Nearly a year ago when you were before this committee for your confirmation, I asked you about this investigation and you stated at the time it was a 'very high priority' for the FBI."

"I'd like to ask you to date, how many victims or alleged victims of improper targeting have been interviewed by the FBI?"

"...because it's a pending [investigation] I can't say," James Comey replied.

"...When the victims of the targeting keep telling us they haven't been interviewed...when the President of the United States gets up and says 'the American people have a right to be angry,' we have a reason to expect that an investigation will be thorough and there will be some accountability. The answer for over a year from the FBI and Justice has been for over a year 'it's a pending investigation and we'll tell you nothing about it," Cruz said.

"Let me ask you a second question, in over a year, has a single person been indicted?"

"I guess I could answer that because it would be public. There have been no indictments."

"Can you tell this committee to date how many White House employees the FBI has interviewed in this investigation?" Cruz said.

"For the reason I've said I can't tell you who's been interviewed at all," Comey replied.

"...So the American people have no right to know what's happening, other than nothing has happened?" Cruz asked

"Let's be fair. That's not what he answered," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said. "He answered very appropriately in the same way that appropriately similar answers were given during Republican administrations and we accepted them."

Cruz then pointed out that documents released last week show that several Senate Democrats worked in close coordination with the IRS to target tea party groups, "So, I understand if there is not an interest among some in this body of learning what happened."

"Again, you're not responding to what I said at all, I'm just saying that what Mr. Comey has said was an appropriate response," Leahy said. "It's nothing to do with how I feel. I don't like the targeting of anyone."

"I would note for the record that when I introduced an amendment before this committee to make it a criminal offense to wilfully target American citizens based on their political views, the Chairman and every Democratic member of this committee voted against it," Cruz responded.

"Mr. Comey, the Attorney General has appointed to lead this investigation, a major Obama donor who has given President Obama and Democrats over $6000. Do you see any actual or apparent conflict of interest in that?"

"I don't think that's something I can comment on."

"Do you think it would have been appropriate to trust John Mitchell to investigate Richard Nixon?"

Comey smiled a bit before saying, "I think that's an impossible one for me to answer at this point."

"Well it's an easy question to answer," Cruz said. "It would not have been."

Cruz's final question asked Comey to respond to Obama's statement that there was "not a smidgen of corruption" in the IRS.

"One thing I can assure you is that the FBI does not care about anybody's characterizations of a matter," Comey said. "We care only about the facts and we're passionate about the facts."