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Eric Holder’s Idea of Justice

Analyzing the attorney general's dubious tenure. 

By 6.25.14

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Obama's Enforcer: Eric Holder's Justice Department
By Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund
(Broadside Books, 272 pages, $27.99)

In Obama’s Enforcer, Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund tell the story of a thoroughly politicized U.S. Department of Justice, headed up by President Obama’s “kindred spirit and…heat shield.” In his tenure as attorney general, Eric Holder has proven to be the “most liberal attorney general of the modern era, who…has also liberally bent the rule of law and established internal policies that harm the cause of justice.”

The Department of Justice is one of the most powerful federal agencies. In 2013, it was America’s largest law firm with a budget of $27 billion and some 114,000 employees. Its role is to enforce and defend the laws of the United States in an impartial and even-handed way. Doing that right takes leadership from the top and supervision through a number of levels of management.

The authors observe that presidents “almost always” appoint the attorney general “they’re most comfortable with.…” This suggests President Obama is “comfortable with” an AG who, among other things, stonewalls Congress, doesn’t mind if he’s held in contempt, thinks Americans are a “nation of cowards” when it comes to talking about race, sees no end to the need for affirmative action, believes the Voting Rights Act does not protect white minorities, and has no problem with staffing the Department of Justice with leftist radicals. Suffice it to say, the authors show this is how Holder proceeds.  

One of the most appalling aspects of Holder’s tenure is his barely disguised disdain for congressional oversight. The authors characterize his approach as “slippery and nonresponsive” and demonstrate the accuracy of that characterization.

In May 2013, Holder told the House Judiciary Committee that he was not involved in prosecuting the press over the publication of leaked classified information: “With regard to potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something I have ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be a wise policy.” The next day, it came to light that Holder had personally reviewed and approved the search warrant application directed at Fox News reporter James Rosen. In that application, Rosen was accused of being an aider, abettor, or co-conspirator of the alleged leaker and should be precluded from learning about the search on the basis that disclosure might, among other things, cause flight from prosecution or result in the destruction of evidence. Nobody should be surprised that, given the difference between non-involvement and personal review and approval, something that Holder chose not to explain, the committee saw Holder’s testimony as “deceptive and misleading.”

In the same vein, in May 2011, Holder told the House Judiciary Committee, “I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” That story lasted until October when documents surfaced showing that he had been sent briefing documents that specifically mentioned Fast and Furious. Accordingly, a few months later, in the friendlier confines of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder told Senator Leahy, “I did say a ‘few weeks.’ I probably could’ve said ‘a couple of months.’ I didn’t think the term I said, ‘few weeks,’ was inaccurate based on what happened.”

The authors provide good reason to question Holder’s managerial competence. With respect to Fast and Furious, the authors note that the claims of Justice Department staffers that they did not talk to him “are simply not credible,” explaining that keeping their boss in the loop is part of their jobs (and staying in the loop is part of his). Again, when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee on May 15, 2013, he was asked about his recusal from an investigation by the Justice Department into a leak regarding a CIA counterterrorism operation in Yemen that not only stopped a plot to bomb an American airliner but also resulted in the disclosure that there was a source within the terrorist organization. Holder’s failure to answer “basic questions” about that recusal prompted Representative Doug Collins to complain about Holder’s “lack of preparation.” After Collins asked Holder, “Did you not think those questions were going to be asked of you today?” Holder told him that he “didn’t think about whether or not you were going to ask me that question.” In fact, Holder couldn’t remember whether he put his recusal in writing as the law requires.

The authors explain that, in other administrations, before a Justice Department official testified before Congress, staff prepared briefing papers “on every conceivable topic” that might be the subject of questions. There would also be practice sessions that were “always tougher than the real thing.” That experience is replicated in Sagebrush Rebel, where Perry Pendley notes that Reagan’s first Interior Secretary, James Watt, knew what was in his briefing book: “If it was in the briefing book or the decision document, it was in [Watt’s] head, on his tongue, and on the record.” Unlike Holder, Watt “was proud” to represent his president and his department.  

Finally, the authors demonstrate that personnel is policy. In 2009, the press and the bien-pensant had a kitten when the then-inspector general for the Justice Department issued a report critical of the perceived propensity of the Bush administration to hire conservative lawyers. The Obama administration’s hiring practices have been largely ignored even though some 56 percent of the Voting Section’s hires came from five organizations: the ACLU, La Raza, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and MALDEF. A series of articles at pjmedia.com in 2011 pointed out the liberal bona-fides of “every single one” of the Justice Department’s 113 new hires.

One such hire was Daniel Freeman, who used his Facebook page to boast that he started the booing of Representative Paul Ryan at Obama’s 2013 inauguration.

Another Voting Section lawyer, Celestine Gyamfi, falsely denied having publicly posted comments on websites “concerning Voting Section personnel or matters” and then told the inspector general’s investigators that “she did not regret posting comments online, except to the extent that it resulted in questioning from the OIG.” Gyamfi was not disciplined.   

In the end, only a change in personnel will do. Holder’s successor will have to repair the damage he has done to the rule of law and the Constitution.

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About the Author
Jack Park is an attorney with the Atlanta law firm Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP.