Attorney General Eric Holder used the phrase "I don’t know" or some variation, at least 57 times during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee today as House Republicans grilled him over controversies including the IRS’ targeting of Tea Partiers, the Justice Department’s seizure of journalist phone records, and the security lapses surrounding the Boston bombing.
Holder, who says he has recused himself from an intelligence leak probe in which the Department of Justice subpoenaed phone records from Associated Press reporters, repeatedly dodged questions about the growing scandal.
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When asked whether the DOJ attempted to work with the AP before seizing the phone records, Holder said, "I don't know what happened. I was recused from the case."
He added that he was not sure when he recused himself from the leak investigation and did not know when the subpoena had been issued.
"I think [the recusal] was towards the beginning of the matter," he said. "I don't know when."
The attorney general was also unaware whether his deputy was interviewed as part of the investigation.
"I don't know. I don't know. I assume he was but I don't know," he told the committee.
Holder announced a criminal investigation into the IRS targeting of conservative organizations this week but was unable to answer numerous inquiries from lawmakers.
When asked whether the IRS had targeted any liberal groups, Holder said, "We're at the beginning of the investigation so I don't know who—what groups—were targeted. All I know is what I've read about in the case."
He said he was not sure whether rogue, low-level IRS employees were responsible for the targeting effort, as top agency officials have claimed or whether the orders came from a higher level.
"I simply don't know at this stage," he said.
Holder also did not know about the transfer of any detainees from Bagram Air Base for trial, whether the Justice Department has ever enforced the Born Alive Infant Protection Act under his tenure, or what questions the Boston bombing suspect was asked by federal law enforcement.
He said he did not know whether his interpretation of the anti-lobbying act applied to Health and Human Services grantees, who may have spent the money lobbying government officials.
"I think you might be referring to what I only read about in the newspapers involving what HHS is doing with implementation of the act. I don't know whether or not—what funds are being used or whether that letter would apply to that effort," said Holder. "I just don't know."
Holder told the committee that he was not sure at what point former CIA Director General David Petraeus or Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were informed about an FBI investigation into Petraeus’ extramarital affair that ultimately led to the CIA chief’s resignation.
"I don't remember when that happened. I knew about it for a while before [Clapper] was notified, I don't know exactly what the time frame was," said Holder.
He added that he was "not sure" and did not remember whether there was any attempt by the DOJ to find out whether the IRS had leaked tax information about Mitt Romney during the 2012 election.
Holder had a tense exchange toward the end of the hearing with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R., Texas) over the FBI’s handling of the Boston bombing investigation after Gohmert suggested the FBI had not been thorough in its interrogation of one of the terror suspects.
"You have characterized the FBI as being not thorough or taken exception to my characterization of them as being thorough," said Holder. "I know what the FBI did. You cannot know what I know. That's all."