Republican leaders of the House Judiciary Committee on Monday accused Attorney General Eric Holder of having "something to hide," after the Justice Department issued a formal defense of his questionable testimony on reporter surveillance -- a defense Republicans rejected as inadequate.
"This response is insulting and further proof that Attorney General Holder refuses to hold himself accountable," Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said.
Holder was facing a Wednesday deadline, set by the committee, to explain his May 15 testimony.
At the time, the attorney general said under oath he knew nothing of the "potential prosecution" of the press. Days later, it emerged that Holder was involved in his department's successful effort to obtain Fox News reporter James Rosen's personal emails -- the DOJ sought access to the documents by arguing Rosen was a likely criminal "co-conspirator" in a leak case.
The Justice Department explained Monday in a letter to GOP committee leaders that the investigation never escalated into any prosecution of the reporter.
"The Attorney General's testimony before the Committee on May 15, 2013, with respect to the Department's prosecutions of the unauthorized disclosure of classified information was accurate and consistent with these facts," the letter said.
Yet the letter also acknowledged that Holder "was consulted and approved the application for the search warrant." And, while Republican leaders of the House Judiciary Committee demanded an explanation from Holder himself, the letter was signed not by him but by a "principal deputy assistant attorney general."
Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Sensenbrenner made clear that the letter did not satisfy their request.
"Today's response from the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs raises more questions than it answers," Goodlatte said. "By having a subordinate send this response rather than Attorney General Holder himself, this response begs the question of whether Holder has something to hide."
He added: "Discrepancies in Attorney General Holder's congressional testimony made on the record need to be corrected on the record to Congress by Attorney General Holder himself."
Sensenbrenner called the response "insulting."
"It is increasingly obvious that Eric Holder has something to hide. I still expect a response from the Attorney General before the deadline of Wednesday, June 5," he said.
Republicans have threatened to haul Holder back before the Judiciary Committee if necessary.
Earlier, Sensenbrenner said his committee is prepared to compel Holder to explain if he doesn't make the Wednesday deadline.
"I think we ought to subpoena the attorney general to come back and answer those questions specifically," he told Fox News on Sunday, when asked what happens if Holder misses the deadline.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., agreed.
He told Fox News on Monday that Holder "absolutely" should return to the committee to explain his May 15 comments.
The department, as well as the White House, have sought to defend Holder against the criticism. A Justice Department official last week explained that since no journalist was ever charged, Holder's testimony was "consistent" with the facts.
"At no time during the leak case ... have prosecutors sought approval to bring criminal charges against the reporter," the official said.
Republicans, many of whom want Holder to step down or be fired over this and other scandals, have stopped short of accusing Holder of perjury.
Sensenbrenner acknowledged Sunday that "getting a perjury rap is really hard" when it comes to convincing a jury.
But he said: "He may have done so, and I think we need some more information."
According to a report in The New York Times, some in the West Wing are now privately telling associates they wish Holder would step down.