Holder punts on pot, urges Congress to act on guns


Attorney General Eric Holder said today that the federal government's response to laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Washington state and Colorado remains forthcoming but will arrive soon.

"We are, in the administration at this point, considering what the federal government's response to those new statutes will be," Holder said during an oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Justice Department is currently mulling whether to challenge the state laws in court. Marijuana remains classified as an illegal drug nationwide under the Controlled Substances Act, putting the statutes in Colorado and Washington at odds with federal law.

Yesterday, eight former heads of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency urged the Justice Department to challenge the state laws in court before the statutes are allowed to stand, or worse still, spread.

Holder also addressed the administration's ongoing push for stronger gun laws, urging Congress to pass new gun trafficking statutes and strengthen the background check system to prevent those who should not have guns from acquiring them. He also pushed back on charges that the government's enforcement and prosecution of gun laws has been lax, explaining that the government has "limited resources" and noting, "All of those cases where people are denied the opportunity to get a gun are in fact reviewed for prosecution purposes."

Still, Holder acknowledged, "One of the things I want to look at...is whether or not we need to bring more of those cases if we are going to be really cracking down on gun crime."

The attorney general was asked by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., about a 1995 speech in which he said, "It's not enough to simply have a catchy ad on Monday and only do it every Monday. We need to do this every day of the week and just really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way."

Holder said his quote was "taken out of context," explaining that he was "talking about young black men who have all kinds of images thrown at them...movies, television stuff that glorifies the use of guns."

"What I said," Holder clarified, "is that we need to counter those images - and I used the term 'brainwash' - to get these young black guys to think differently about the possession and use of guns. "

Holder was also asked about a recent Government Accountability Office report showing that he and FBI Director Robert Mueller made frequent use of an FBI jet for trips - most business related, but some personal.

Holder assured the committee, "One of the things I want to emphasize is that these planes are always used first and foremost for mission purposes," arguing that the "notion that these planes are somehow being misused is totally belied by the facts, if they are fairly viewed."

The attorney general was also grilled by several senators about his assertion yesterday that the government could carry out a drone strike against an American on U.S. soil in an "extraordinary circumstance."

"If an individual is quietly sitting at a café in the United States," asked Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., "in your legal judgment, does the constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil to be killed by a drone?"

"I would not think that would be an appropriate use of any kind of lethal force," replied Holder.

Cruz, unsatisfied, pressed further: "I find it remarkable that, in that hypothetical, which is deliberately very simple, you are unable to give a one word, one syllable answer: 'No.'"

"Translate my 'appropriate' to 'no'," Holder replied. "I thought I was saying 'No.'"