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Republicans warn Holder on torture

From NBC's Pete Williams

At a hearing today with Attorney General Eric Holder, Republican members of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee suggested that any potential criminal investigation into the CIA's harsh interrogation methods might not easily be contained.

Both Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Richard Shelby of Alabama pressed Holder on the CIA's "rendition" program that moved terrorism suspects from one country to another. 

Didn't that happen during the Clinton administration? 
Yes, Holder said. 

"How many did you approve?" they asked. 
Holder said he'd check the record.

The clear suggestion was, if any criminal investigation is opened, Republicans would push to get it expanded beyond events during the Bush administration. Alexander, for example, asked several times whether members of Congress, who were told about the interrogation methods, should also be investigated.

As for a potential investigation of the lawyers who wrote the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel opinions approving harsh interrogation methods, Holder said -- as he has several times now -- that he remains skeptical. 

"We're not trying to do anything that would be perceived as partisan," he said. "We want to move forward to the extent we can."

Today's hearing also provided another avenue for members of Congress to tell the Obama administration they're very worried about bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees into the U.S., where they might be released. Holder said no one who was dangerous or a threat to the community would be released anywhere in the world. 

[EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the committee Holder testified before as Judiciary. This version corrects that, pointing out that it was an Appropriations subcommittee.]