Is it time for Attorney General Eric Holder to (as is frequently said in politics) "spend some more time with his family"?
I must admit, it's hard for me to be impartial and unbiased in suggesting that it might be time for Holder to step down. One of my biggest disappointments with President Obama's transition to his second term was the announcement that Holder would be staying on, instead of turning the Justice Department over to someone else. I don't personally dislike Holder (I've never met the man), but I do strongly question his priorities during his time as the nation's Attorney General. To give just one example: there are no bankers currently in jail because they illegally contributed to the wrecking of the American economy, even though it happened almost five years ago. Holder's "too big to jail" legacy of backing down to Wall Street is enough, in my opinion, to begin the search for a fresh face at the Justice Department.
Since I've admitted my own bias, allow me to first make the case for Holder staying where he is. Holder does not have a central role in any of the three scandals currently swirling around Washington. The Benghazi talking points issue was a tug-of-war between the CIA and the State Department. The IRS is a division of the Treasury Department. Although the third scandal does emanate from the Justice Department, Holder has stated that he recused himself from the whole process of investigating the leaks and in getting the Associated Press' phone records -- which would seem to let him off that particular hook. Holder may now become involved in the IRS scandal, as part of a criminal probe into whether any federal laws were broken by anyone at the agency, but that's in the future, and had nothing whatsoever to do with whatever happened there in the past.
There are two cases to be made for Holder's exit from the Washington stage, though. The first is crassly political -- Holder throwing himself on his sword might give the Obama administration the breathing room necessary to bring in a more-trusted Attorney General who could clean house in the executive branch. This strategy may or may not work, and could even backfire. To begin with, Republicans likely won't be happy with just securing Holder's scalp in the midst of all the scandals (they've set their sights higher than that, to put it plainly). And if Holder stepped down, that would mean a nomination battle in the Senate over his replacement -- which the Republicans would milk for all it was worth. The confirmation hearings would be a seemingly-endless sideshow in the midst of the three-ring-circus of scandals, but they would allow Republicans to pose questions involving anything they wished to get off their chests -- which would mean that, politically, it might wind up doing more damage than good to President Obama. But Holder stepping up and making the announcement that he needs some family time would certainly be a dramatic distraction on the Washington stage, for better or worse.
The second reason Holder should step down is that his priorities over what the Justice Department spends its resources investigating and prosecuting have always been out of whack with the sunny face Obama tries to present for his administration. The more the AP phone records case is discussed, the more inconvenient truths are going to pop up in the media -- such as why the Obama administration has been prosecuting leak cases with such ferocity in the first place. Obama and Holder have gone after twice as many of these cases as all other previous presidents combined. That is a matter of prosecutorial resource allocation. No stone is left unturned ferreting out these leaks, but all the bankers who crashed the American economy are free to watch the sun rise each and every day, confident in the knowledge that Holder is not going to use these same resources digging through their phone records. And while reporters enter "high dudgeon mode" and close ranks because the target is a media organization, sooner or later someone's going to point out that the Obama administration has continued Bush's love affair with phone tapping and monitoring on an enormous scale -- targeting a whole lot of folks who aren't AP reporters.
There are numerous other complaints about Holder's resource allocations as well as just civil liberties and the Fourth Amendment. Righties still haven't forgiven Holder for the "Fast and Furious" program. Lefties will point out that the Obama administration has been harsher on medical marijuana (and marijuana prosecution in general) than any previous administration. How many lawyer-hours have been spent intimidating people who rent buildings to medicinal marijuana dispensaries (such as threatening them with 40-year federal prison sentences) in states which allow them? Perhaps this enormous amount of time and effort could have been better spent? Even with this absolute obsession over marijuana, Holder has now had over half a year since two states legalized it for recreational use, and he still has yet to utter a single peep about what the federal government's response is going to be -- which is an insult to the voters of the states of Colorado and Washington. Immigration advocates have their own problems with how Holder prioritizes things -- like deportation proceedings, which have been at an all-time high since Obama took office.
Personally, I think President Obama missed a political opportunity to replace Holder for his second term. Holder was one of the highest-ranking cabinet members to stay on, while plenty of others decided that four years had been enough. But, as I mentioned, my suggesting Holder step down is more than a little opportunist on my part, because of my own feelings about his priorities at the Justice Department. So I do not offer up a forceful demand ("Holder Must Go!") but rather a question to everyone else ("Should Holder Go?").
An obvious response to that would be to ask: "Why should he?" He's not directly implicated in any of the trio of scandals, after all. Obama is engaged in some serious damage control right now, and Holder's exit might even serve to undermine such efforts.
So maybe it's my own biases which even cause me to pose the question in the first place. It's certainly possible. Still... I can't keep from wondering whether Eric Holder might not want to spend some quality time with his family in the near future. Because if he sticks around for the next few months, he's likely going to be Attorney General until January of 2017. Which means over three more years of him continuing to set the priorities for the Justice Department. Which doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.
-- Chris Weigant
-- Chris Weigant
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant