Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday accused a senior Republican lawmaker of "shameful" behavior in an unusually personal exchange between the chief U.S. prosecutor and one of his most vocal congressional critics.
Holder and Representative Darrell Issa of California have been at odds publicly for more than two years, and are even in a lawsuit in federal court in Washington over access to documents.
At a hearing before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Issa assailed Holder over the actions of Thomas Perez, who works for Holder as head of the Justice Department's civil rights division. Perez is President Barack Obama's nominee for labor secretary and is scheduled for a vote in a Senate committee on Thursday.
Issa said that as part of a review of how Perez handled a fraud case, the Justice Department turned over to him only parts of emails Perez had written. The department gave Issa the "to" and "from" lines from the emails, but not the contents, he said.
Holder said he would look at the request. "I'm sure there must have been a good reason why only the to-and-from parts were provided," he said.
Issa responded, "Yes, you didn't want us to see the details."
The two talked over each other as Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, attempted to referee.
Holder said Issa was mischaracterizing the Justice Department's response in a way that "is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It's unacceptable, and it's shameful."
Issa did not respond directly to the attack, instead focusing on whether it was appropriate for Perez to use a personal email account for government business.
Relations between the two men reached a low point in June 2012, when the House found Holder in contempt after a successful effort by Issa. Republicans said that Holder withheld documents about Operation Fast and Furious, a failed attempt to reduce gun trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Holder said he provided the Republicans with thousands of pages of documents and wanted to negotiate for further access before the lawmakers, under pressure from the gun rights lobbying group the National Rifle Association, decided to move ahead with a contempt vote.
A judge in U.S. District Court in Washington is now weighing whether she has authority to intervene in the dispute.
Adding new fuel, Holder told ABC News in February that, "for me to really be affected by what happened, I'd have to have respect for the people who voted in that way."
He added, "And I didn't, so it didn't have that huge an impact on me."
Republicans on Wednesday called his latest comment insulting, while Holder said they had failed to treat him with the respect owed to the head of the Justice Department.
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