In an escalating war of words with Attorney General Eric Holder, Senate Republicans are raising "serious concerns" about political appointees at the Justice Department who previously worked on behalf of terror suspects.
The Republicans told Holder in a letter obtained by ABC News that "unanswered questions" about these political appointees "raise serious concerns about who is providing advice on detainee matters." The letter, signed by all seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also accuses the Justice Department of being "nonresponsive" and "intentionally evasive" to questions on this issue.
The Senators are demanding answers about these political appointees by March 12, when Holder is next scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"The Department's attorneys are subject to ethics and disclosure rules as required under both Department guidelines and this administration's own ethics rules, which are the strongest in history," Department of Justice Spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement today. "In a week that this Department secured a guilty plea from Najibullah Zazi for attempting to attack the New York subway system and indicted two of his co-conspirators for their alleged role in the attack, it should be clear that fighting terrorism and keeping the American people safe is our number one priority."
The Justice Department has acknowledged that at least ten political appointees at the agency previously worked on behalf of detainees in terror cases, including six lawyers who worked as legal counsel for detainees and four who worked for advocacy organizations.
The most prominent is perhaps Assistant Attorney General Tony West, who previously represented "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh.
Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal represented Afghan Guantanamo Bay detainee Salim Hamdan in a case that was an enormous setback for the Bush administration's early plan for military commissions.
Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich acknowledged, in a letter earlier this month to Senator Chuck Grassley, that several appointees have defended detainees. But the letter did not list the names of the political appointees or answer questions about what work they are doing on detainee issues for the Department.
In his letter to Grassley, Weich said the former detainee representatives are not excluded from Department of Justice decisions on issues related to terror cases except for those involving individuals where there is a conflict of interest.
Senate Republicans, Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich Exchange Letters on Appointees
"Department appointees have been authorized to participate in policy and legal decisions regarding detainee matters and decisions relating to the disposition of detainees, except in those particular matters involving specific parties from which they are recused," wrote Weich.
In the blistering letter to Attorney General Eric Holder sent today, the Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans are demanding to know the names and titles of all political appointees who represented detainees and a list of all who are working on detainee-related issues and/or policy issues.
"These unanswered original questions and the new questions," the Republicans wrote, "raise serious concerns about who is providing advice on detainee matters."