The timing for Attorney General Eric Holder's visit to Capitol Hill today was perfect. On the heels of the staggering revelation that the FBI requested — and received — authorization for the National Security Agency to vacuum up phone records from Verizon, a Senate committee had the chance to inquire into how and why the apparent privacy breach occurred. That is not in the least what happened.
Even before Holder arrived at the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, it was clear that any number of senators had his back. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he was "glad the NSA is trying to find out what the terrorists are up to." Senator Dianne Feinstein of California noted that the NSA's work was "called protecting America." Senator Saxby Chambliss labeled the snooping "nothing particularly new."
And when the hearing started, the attitude was much the same. Democratic chairwoman Barbara Mikulski began by noting the current budget crunch, and assuring the audience that the group wanted "to make sure that they know we value them." Looking Holder in the eye, she said "We want to say thank you." In her intro, she didn't mention Verizon. (She did later inquire about "what I think is an explosive situation — the federal prisons.")
When it was his turn, Republican senior member Richard Shelby gave Holder a slightly harder time — but on other issues. For example, he challenged the administration's desire to close Guantanamo and move prisoners to the domestic United States. When he did want to criticize Holder, it was on "the controversies that have engulfed the attorney general over the past few weeks" — in other words, the subpoenas of the media phone records and the implication that one Fox News reporter might be charged with a crime. This, Shelby indicated, had "tarnished the efficacy" of Holder's position.