Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. likely will face a grilling on Capitol Hill on Wednesday as he remains in the cross hairs of unyielding conservative criticism.
Holder is scheduled to testify during a once-postponed oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the latest chapter of a tense relationship between him and Republicans, who began their attacks on the nation's 82nd attorney general even before he took office last year.
Those attacks have not diminished. Everything from Holder's handling of a controversial pardon during his tenure as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration to his recent handling of terrorism cases has provided fodder for the GOP.
In the most recent example, it was revealed last month that Holder did not disclose during his Senate confirmation process Supreme Court briefs he filed in a notable terrorism case. The briefs, which he signed, challenged the George W. Bush administration's power to detain indefinitely an American citizen, Jose Padilla, initially held as an "enemy combatant" and later convicted in federal court of conspiring to kill people in an overseas jihad and to support overseas terrorism.
President Bush had argued that Padilla was not entitled to a trial in a civilian court, but Padilla later was transferred to a Miami jail to face criminal conspiracy charges.
The Padilla brief was among six Holder prepared or supported that he failed to disclose to the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation. He has maintained that it was an unintentional oversight to not provide the briefs and has apologized to the committee.
"Clearly, we made good-faith errors in preparing the voluminous submissions to the committee, as unfortunately happens on occasion," said Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. "These briefs were inadvertently not supplied to the committee, which we regret.
"We have now supplied the committee with all briefs as counsel or amicus before the Supreme Court of which we are aware," he said.
But Holder's explanations are unlikely to placate Republican critics, who almost certainly will interrogate the attorney general about his overall handling of terrorism issues.
Chief among those was Holder's decision late last year to prosecute Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others in civilian courts in New York City. Republicans blasted that plan, which ultimately lost support from that city's leaders.
The Obama administration is reconsidering Holder's decision, though it appears unlikely civilian trials will be held in New York City.
Holder also is expected to take heat from the GOP regarding a decision to have FBI agents issue a Miranda rights warning during the questioning of Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is suspected in the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner over Detroit. Republicans are concerned that the Miranda warning stopped agents from learning potentially important information.
The GOP may also focus on statements Holder made to a House panel last month that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden will never be captured alive.
"We will be reading Miranda rights to a corpse of Osama bin Laden. He will never appear in an American courtroom," Holder said, adding that bin Laden "will be killed by us or he will be killed by his own people."
The Obama administration quickly backed away from Holder's statements. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the military still hopes to capture bin Laden alive.
While Holder has emerged as the most frequent GOP target among President Obama's Cabinet members, the criticism is nothing new.
Republicans delayed voting on Holder's nomination for a week in 2009 and railed against his record as a top Justice Department official during the Clinton administration. They specifically attacked Holder's role in President Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich and Holder's involvement in the award of clemency to a group of Puerto Rican terrorists.
Since then, the relationship between the two sides has hardly improved.
Less than a month into his tenure, Holder drew the ire of conservatives for calling the United States "a nation of cowards" when it comes to discussing race. Republicans have continued to use Holder to symbolize what they perceive as the administration's weaknesses in dealing with terrorism.
Holder will be missing a key ally on the committee on Wednesday because Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, will be in his home state to attend the funeral of a family friend. The second-highest Democrat on the committee, Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, will serve as chairman.
Despite the enduring criticism, the attorney general remains undeterred.
"At the end of the day," Miller said, "the attorney general's job is to make the difficult decisions this department faces based on the facts and the law, and he's going to keep doing that."
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