It's been a rough few months for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., and he should face more tough questioning when he reports for the Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Tuesday.
In the legal war on terror alone, he has been under fire for scheduling the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in civil court in New York rather than in a military tribunal; for Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomber suspect; for trying to relocate Guantanamo detainees where people don't want them; for dragging his feet before finally revealing at least nine lawyers in his department who formerly represented terrorist detainees; and, most recently, for reporting that he failed to disclose in his confirmation hearings seven briefs in which he participated as a lawyer, including ones involving the war on terror.
Even with health care and the economy as the front-burner issues in Mr. Obama's first year, no Cabinet officer's department has generated more smoke than Mr. Holder's. Senators - even the president himself - should be examining these several problems and asking whether Mr. Holder is really up to the job or, perhaps worse, whether these issues add up to an agenda to tip the legal scale sharply in favor of detainee rights and away from national security concerns.
Let's start with the latest flaps because, taken together, they seem to raise questions of legal philosophy at the Department of Justice. In November, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, asked Mr. Holder to identify department lawyers who may have conflicts of interest for having represented detainees. In a surprisingly cool response, Mr. Holder said he'd consider it and then sat on it for three months. Finally, last month, he provided an incomplete answer, admitting there were at least nine department lawyers who had represented detainees, identifying just two of them.
Then the department acknowledged this week that Mr. Holder had failed to disclose some of his own work on several briefs, including one on behalf of enemy combatant Jose Padilla, during his confirmation hearings as attorney general, calling it an oversight. A case that went all the way to the Supreme Court would seem to be difficult to forget or overlook.
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