The Cable

House to grill Eric Holder on AP phone taps tomorrow

With scrutiny building over the Justice Department's sweeping seizure of two months of phone records by Associated Press journalists, Attorney General Eric Holder is set to face a grilling from House lawmakers on Wednesday, a committee source tells The Cable.

The House Judiciary Committee had already scheduled an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill for 1 p.m., and according to the committee source  "Attorney General Eric Holder will testify and the AP email issue will come up." If this morning's remarks by the committee's chairman, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), are any indication, it should be a contentious hearing.

"Any abridgement of the First Amendment right to the freedom of the press is concerning," he said Tuesday in wake of the probe.  "The House Judiciary Committee will thoroughly investigate this issue and will also ask Attorney General Eric Holder pointed questions about it at Wednesday's oversight hearing."

Thus far, the White House has denied involvement in the probe, and has referred reporters to the Justice Department, putting all eyes on Holder. Last night, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said "we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP.... Any questions about an ongoing criminal investigation should be directed to the Department of Justice." Lawmakers are likely to take Carney up on that suggestion.

In sum, the Justice Department secretly seized the records for more than 20 separate phone lines of the AP and its journalists, in a move the news agency's CEO called "massive and unprecedented." The Cable spoke with Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer who's worked on a number of high profile leak cases, who put the probe in similar terms. "This is one of the boldest moves ever taken by an administration in its war against leakers," said Zaid, noting that the length of time and number of reporters and editors ensnared rivaled any case in recent memory.

The probe is believed to be in response to a May 7, 2012 AP story in which a government employee allegedly leaked details of a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen involving a CIA double-agent to an AP journalist.



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The Cable

Cummings requests Petraeus testify under oath on Benghazi

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, has requested that former CIA director David Petraeus testify under oath in a new public hearing on Benghazi in a letter to Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA).

The request comes in response to Issa's recent remarks that Petraeus was pressured into toeing the administration line in the aftermath of last year's Benghazi attack. "David Petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say," Issa told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday.

In the letter, Cummings challenges Issa to make those allegations to Petraeus's face. "These are some of the most serious charges you can make against our nation's top military and intelligence officials, and I believe the American people deserve to hear their responses in the same forum in which you made them -- a public hearing before our Committee," writes Cummings.

When asked if Issa would consider calling on Petraeus to attend a public hearing, Issa spokesman Frederick Hill left the possibility open, saying "We always welcome the minority to make suggestions." Petraeus's lawyer and Washington heavyweight Robert Barnett, who has handled media requests for the retired general in recent months, did not respond to a request for comment.

Interestingly, in this highly politicized investigation, it's not clear which partisan interest a Petraeus testimony would serve.

Many conservatives maintain that Petraeus was one of the few noble actors in the Benghazi mishap, a position that hardened yesterday after a report from ABC's Jonathan Karl, who quoted an e-mail by then-CIA Director Petraeus denouncing the edited State Department talking points as "essentially useless" at the time. "I would just as soon not use them, but it's their [the White House's] call," Petraeus said.

That's the Petraeus many conservatives have been begging to see testify. But it's not clear if that's the Petraeus conservatives would get.

For instance, this is how Rep. Peter King (R-NY) recalls a briefing with Petraeus days after the Sept. 11, 2012 attack. "The clear impression we were given [in September] was that the overwhelming amount of evidence was that it arose out of a spontaneous demonstration, and was not a terrorist attack," King told reporters in November.

Cummings, meanwhile, appears to be fed up with Issa's allegations that Petraeus, and other respected military and intelligence officials such as Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former AFRICOM chief, Gen. Carter Ham, acted either negligently or willfully became White House puppets after the attack.

"Over the past week, you and other Members of the Committee have accused these officials of withholding critical military assistance that could have saved American lives in Benghazi, intentionally misleading the American people about the attacks, and engaging in a cover-up to conceal their wrongdoing," writes Cummings.

The message being: Either say it to their face, or don't say anything at all.