ABC News’ Sunlen Miller and Jason Ryan report:
Top Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are lashing out at the Obama administration after Attorney General Eric Holder informed congressional appropriations leaders Tuesday that despite congressional objections, the Justice Department is moving forward with a plan to purchase the maximum-security prison in Thomson, Ill.
“Americans would rather their tax dollars be spent preventing attacks from terrorists, than spent bringing them into their cities and towns as the Obama administration has repeatedly tried to achieve,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement Tuesday, calling it an “election-eve purchase.”
The Obama administration had viewed the facility as a potential location to hold high-security terrorism suspects before the administration’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba failed.
Citing 38 percent overcrowding rates in federal prisons, Holder says in the letter to Chairman Frank Wolf, R-Va., of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science that no Guantanamo Bay suspects would reside at the desperately needed Thomson facility.
Still, Republicans cast the decision as a unilateral move by the administration, one that Congress has opposed.
“The unilateral decision to purchase the Thomson Prison – even though Congress has repeatedly opposed the Obama administration’s effort to use taxpayer funds to do so – underscores the administration’s desire to move forward and bring these detainees to U.S. soil,” Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday.
The Justice Department will buy the prison from the state of Illinois for $165 million. Holder noted that building a new facility could cost as much as $400 million. The funds for the purchase will be obtained from DOJ seizures in asset-forfeiture cases. The Thomson prison could hold up to 2,800 inmates, according to Justice Department officials.
“The administration is acutely aware of BOP’s need for the facility and the department’s inability to reach a resolution of the matter with you. Under these circumstances, the administration has decided to proceed with the purchase,” AG Holder wrote Tuesday to Rep. Wolf.
“Thomson is still desperately needed to reduce our current high level of overcrowding. And Thomson is specifically needed to house inmates particularly those appropriate for “administrative maximum,” Holder wrote in his letter, making reference to the highest security level in the Bureau of Prisons, “administrative maximum.”
A Government Accountability Office report released in September noted that Bureau of Prisons facilities are severely overcrowded with double- and triple-stacked bunk beds.
“According to BOP and our observations, the growth of the federal inmate population and related crowding have negatively affected inmates housed in BOP institutions, institutional staff, and the infrastructure of BOP facilities, and have contributed to inmate misconduct, which affects staff and inmate security and safety,” the GAO report noted.
But Wolf said in a statement issued after the decision was announced Tuesday, “President Obama’s unprecedented directive to Attorney General Holder to circumvent Congress to purchase Thomson prison is deeply troubling.
“Today’s actions are just the latest in a series of disconcerting moves by this Justice Department,” he added, “including its handling of the ‘Fast and Furious’ operation.”