Friday marks the final day of Eric Holder’s controversial tenure as attorney general. Most of that controversy spilled over to Capitol Hill, whether in the course of long-running investigations or in getting into spats with members during congressional hearings.
Here are five examples of Holder’s confrontations with Congress.
1. Operation Fast and Furious
The Justice Department’s botched Operation Fast and Furious led to more than 100 Republican members of Congress calling for Holder to resign and eventually led to a bipartisan vote to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress.
The flawed operation allowed some 2,000 guns to flow into Mexican drug-trafficking organizations, two of which were found at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Investigators suspect the guns might have been used in other crimes inside Mexico.
When Holder failed to produce thousands of documents requested by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the committee and later the full House of Representatives voted to hold him in contempt of Congress, with 17 Democrats voting for the contempt charges and two Republicans voting against.
As more documents trickled out last year, one of the emails showed Holder had slammed then-Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and his “idiot cronies.”
2. Misleading on Leak Probes
A 70-page reported by the House Judiciary Committee in July 2013 determined Holder gave “deceptive and misleading” testimony in May telling Congress he wasn’t involved in and wasn’t aware of potential prosecution of journalists in leak investigations.
“With regard to potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I have ever been involved, heard of, or would think would be a wise policy,” Holder said in his May testimony.
The House report concluded: “We believe that Mr. Holder’s simple and direct statement had the intended effect — to leave the members of the committee with the impression that not only had the potential prosecution of a reporter never been contemplated during Mr. Holder’s tenure, but that nothing comparable to the Rosen search warrant had ever been executed by this administration. On the basis of Mr. Holder’s testimony, there was little doubt in the members’ minds that the legal machinery for such an undertaking had never been started.”
3. Reluctance on ‘Radical Islam’
In May 2010, then-ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith (R-Texas) asked Holder during a hearing if radical Islam is a contributing factor to recent terrorism cases.
“There are a variety of reasons why I think people have taken these actions,” Holder replied. “One, I think just look at each individual case. We are in the process how of talking to Mr. Shahzad to try to understand what it is that drove him to take the action.”
Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American citizen, was convicted for attempting to set off a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010.
Smith followed, “But radical Islam could have been one of the reasons?”
Holder again said, “There are a variety of reasons.”
Smith later asked, “But all I’m asking is do you think among those variety of reasons, radical Islam might have been one of the reasons that the individuals took the steps that they did?”
After a two-minute exchange, Holder finally said, “I certainly think that it’s possible that people who espouse a radical version of Islam have had an ability to have an impact on people like Mr. Shahzad.”
4. Shaky with Ted Cruz on Domestic Drone Strikes
During a March 2013 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) pressed Holder on a letter the attorney general sent to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), that was less than clear about whether the administration would consider a domestic drone strike against a U.S. citizen constitutional.
“I would not think that that would be an appropriate use of any kind of lethal force. We would deal with that in a way we would typically deal with a situation like that –” Holder began to respond, before Cruz interrupted.
“With all due respect … my question wasn’t about ‘appropriateness’ or prosecutorial discretion, it was a simple legal question,” Cruz followed. “Does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, who doesn’t pose an imminent threat, to be killed by the U.S. government?”
“I do not believe that — again, you have to look at all of the facts,” Holder said. “On the facts you have given me, this is a hypothetical, I would not think that in that situation the use of a drone or lethal force would be appropriate because —.”
Cruz went on to state, “I think it is unequivocal that if the U.S. government were to use a drone to take the life of a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil and that individual didn’t pose an imminent threat, that that would be a deprivation of life without due process.”
5. Dissing Louie Gohmert Over ‘Asparagus’ Gaffe
After the Boston bombings in 2013, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) got into an exchange with Holder and ended up declaring, “The attorney general will not cast aspersions on my asparagus!”
It was a moment that gained some attention from liberal websites and one that Holder did not forget when the two had another exchange in April 2014.
“I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our attorney general, but it is important that we have proper oversight,” Gohmert said.
Holder responded, “You don’t want to go there, OK?”
After a few more words, Holder snapped, “Good luck with your asparagus.”