WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Attorney General Eric Holder says he is "deeply disturbed" that Attorney General Jeff Sessions hasn't spoken out to defend his employees at the Justice Department amid Republican criticism of the FBI.
Holder said Wednesday that Republicans who have criticized the agency are trying to delegitimize the department without any thought of the long-term consequences.
"It's time for the leaders of the Justice Department to speak on behalf of the dedicated career men and women who sacrifice a great deal, are patriots and who do the nation's business without any consideration of partisan politics," Holder said in a brief interview with The Associated Press after he attended the swearing-in of his friend, Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, on Capitol Hill. "And it is something that is both disturbing and heartbreaking to see them being unfairly attacked, and to have nothing but silence coming from the 5th floor of the Justice Department."
Sessions' office is on the 5th floor of the main Justice Department building.
President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have increasingly lashed out at the department after hundreds of text messages were revealed between an FBI counterintelligence agent and an FBI lawyer criticizing Trump. Both had at one point been assigned to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference, which has already resulted in charges against four of Trump's campaign advisers and increasingly appears focused on Trump's inner circle of associates and advisers.
Last month, Trump tweeted that the FBI is a biased agency whose reputation is "in Tatters — worst in History!"
Just before leaving for the holiday break, two Republican-led House committees began a new investigation of the FBI and its 2016 inquiry into Democrat Hillary Clinton's email server. The House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees spent hours behind closed doors with Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who was involved in that probe.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the most forceful recent critics, tweeted on Wednesday 18 questions he said he has about the FBI and Russia. Several involved the texts and also a dossier of allegations about Trump's ties to Russia that was partially paid for by Democrats.
"We are not ruled by unelected bureaucrats, police forces, or intelligence agencies," Jordan tweeted. "In America, We The People ELECT officials who govern."
Holder said he doesn't think the attacks will affect Mueller's probe, but worries there will be a "collateral negative impact" when agents are doing their jobs.
"Our institutions are strong, I think our founding documents are strong, but I think we are seeing a stress test the likes of which we have not seen since Watergate," he said.
In 1973, President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of the independent special prosecutor overseeing the Watergate investigation, prompting the resignations of the top two officials at the Justice Department.
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump in May, sent a similar message on Twitter Wednesday.
Comey tweeted, "Where are the voices of all the leaders who know an independent Department of Justice and FBI are essential to our liberty?"
He then quoted Protestant reformer Martin Luther: "You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say."
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.