But by the time the 37 members of the House Judiciary Committee were done, Holder had spent most of his time fielding inquiries about Benghazi®, hate crimes, marijuana law enforcement, abortion, Department of Labor nominee Tom Perez, the Boston Marathon bombing, prosecuting big banks, the prisoners still at Guantánamo, early releases of felons in North Carolina, releases of prisoners under the new law reducing cocaine sentencing disparities, religious discrimination, racial profiling, the Anti-Lobbying Act as it applies to Health and Human Services, counterfeit and stolen goods sold over the internet, human trafficking, press shield laws, use of personal email accounts for public business, the imprisonment of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, moving prisoners from Afghanistan to the U.S., financial settlements with black and American Indian farmers under the Pigford case, the right to counsel of juveniles in the criminal justice system, "Fast and Furious," the investigation of General David Petraeus, immigration, sequestration, the timing and announcement of recusals, prosecutions under existing gun statutes, government transparency, and the length of prison sentences.
Oh. Also Holder's alleged contempt for those who voted to charge him with contempt.
Not that most of these matters didn't deserve to be discussed, perhaps even get their own hearing before the committee. But five minutes per member is not enough time to get to the root of any issues and yet plenty of time to turn the hearing into what seemed like a festival of interruptions with Holder as the piñata. Whatever one thinks of Eric Holder and his tenure as attorney general—and I've got more than five minutes of questions he didn't get asked of my own—it was deeply satisfying to see him call out the overbearing Darrell Issa, the self-anointed king of investigations, although not of the Judiciary Committee. Said Holder after some sparring:
• "It is inappropriate and too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It is unacceptable. And it's shameful."
Some moments of levity, eye-rolling and struck bullseyes:
• Republican Rep. Howard Coble of North Carolina: "Now I am having a senior moment. I forgot what I was going to ask you. It will come back to me in due time. ... Well, maybe it won't."
• Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee: "The Pew Research Group shows that 52 percent of Americans think marijuana should not be illegal, and yet there are people in jail, and your Justice Department continues to put people in jail, for sale and use, on occasion, of marijuana. That's something the American public has finally caught up with. It was a cultural lag and it's been an injustice for 40 years in this country, to take people's liberty for something that was similar to alcohol."
• Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona: "Well, you know, I guess I hear the mantra so often that, you know that, somehow this is choice. But to stand by in silence while the most helpless of all children are tortuously and agonizingly dismembered, day after day after day, year after year, Mr. General, is a—quite honestly a heartless disgrace
that really can't be described by the vocabulary of man."
• Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York: "I have no doubt, and we've already been hearing much hue and cry about the Department of Justice probe of AP records. But I think we should put this in context, and remember that less than a year ago this committee's Republican leadership demanded aggressive investigation of press leaks, accusing the administration itself of orchestrating those leaks. Then, members of this committee wanted the reporters subpoenaed, put in front of grand juries and potentially jailed for contempt. Now, of course, it is convenient to attack the attorney general for being too aggressive or the Justice Department for being too aggressive."