Issa: Scandal Over AP Phones Records 'Just the Latest One' at DOJ

By Susan Jones | May 14, 2013 | 9:17 AM EDT

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R.-Calif. (AP Photo)

( - "There are serious problems at DOJ. This is just the latest one," Rep. Darrell Issa said on Monday, after news broke about the Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors.

Issa told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that if Attorney General Eric Holder is behind the phone monitoring, "He should be held accountable for what I think is wrong."

Even if Holder didn't approve this, Issa said, "the question is, when is the Justice Department going to take responsibility for what it does, whether it's Tom Perez and the scandal they had in St. Paul; or this; or quite frankly, the fact they're still...standing behind the courts, trying not to deliver the answer, in the case of Fast and Furious, to the cover-up of how they lied to Congress and deceived the American people for months."

According to the AP, the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.

Conservatives have raised concerns about Eric Holder leadership of the U.S. Justice Department since Barack Obama first took office. (Holder and his wife are close personal friends of the Obamas.)

New Black Panther Party

The DOJ's Civil Rights Division, which handles "hate crimes" and voter rights cases, came under scrutiny early on, for failing to prosecute the New Black Panthers who allegedly engaged in voter intimidation and racial insults outside a Philadelphia polling station on Election Day 2008.

Although the Justice Department filed a civil (voter intimidation) lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party, its chairman, and two others in January 2009, it dismissed the complaint against three of the four defendants in May 2009. That same month, DOJ was granted an injunction prohibiting the fourth man from bringing a weapon to a polling place in Philadelphia through 2013, but the defendant was never prosecuted.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) was among the outraged conservatives. Wolf repeatedly has called on Attorney General Eric Holder to re-file a voter intimidation case against the  New Black Panthers.

"I worry that the department's commitment to protecting 'the fundamental right to vote' is wavering under your leadership," Wolf wrote in a June 8, 2009 letter to Attorney General Holder.

"I fail to understand how you could dismiss a legitimate case against a party that deployed armed men to a polling station -- one of whom brandished a weapon to voters -- who harrassed and intimidated voters, and could then decide that such actions do not constitute a violation of section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits 'intimidation, coercion, or threats' against voters."

Four years later, President Obama nominated Thomas Perez, the head of DOJ's Civil Rights Division, to be his Labor Secretary.

A number of Republicans objected, pointing to Perez's testimony about the New Black Panther Party case. A DOJ inspector general found that Perez misleadingly testified in 2010 that no political appointees were involved in the decision to dismiss the case against three of the four defendants.

Perez also has come under fire for orchestrating a deal with the City of St. Paul, Minn. that -- according to Rep. Chuck Grasslely (R-Okla.) -- was detrimental to American taxpayers, whistleblowers and the Justice Department.

Fast and Furious

Issa also mentioned Fast and Furious among DOJ's list of scandals.

As has reported, Operation Fast and Furious was a program carried out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a division of the Justice Department.

Beginning in the fall of 2009 and continuing into early 2011, the federal government purposely allowed known or suspected gun smugglers to purchase guns at federally licensed firearms dealers in Arizona. The government did not try to stop these illegal gun purchases, intercept the smugglers after the purchases, or recover the guns they had purchased.

In some cases the smugglers delivered the guns to Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

The reported purpose of the operation was to track and uncover the entirety of the smuggling operations so they could be completely shut down. However, two rifles sold to a smuggler in the course of Operation Fast and Furious ended up at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, investigated Fast and Furious -- and are still awaiting answers from Attorney General Holder, whom the Oversight Committee subpoenaed in Oct. 2011.

"Top Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Holder, know more about Operation Fast and Furious than they have publicly acknowledged," Issa said at the time.  "The documents this subpoena demands will provide answers to questions that Justice officials have tried to avoid since this investigation began eight months ago. It's time we know the whole truth."

The committee ordered Holder "to produce documents that would enable the Committee (and the American people) to understand how and why the Department provided false information to Congress and otherwise obstructed the Committee’s concededly-legitimate investigation into Operation Fast and Furious."

In June 2012, the House Oversight Committee voted 23 to 17 along party lines to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to produce the requested documents.

And in August 2012, the committee sued Holder to enforce the "duly authorized, issued and served Committee subpoena for documents." A judge ordered the case into mediation in March 2013, and there has been no resolution as of this writing.