Almost immediately after the first reports of Attorney General Eric Holder’s impending resignation surfaced today, his detractors did too. “Eric Holder is the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) – with whom Holder often clashed – tweeted.
“The nation deserves an attorney general whose loyalty to the justice system will trump loyalty to a political party,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who had called for Holder’s resignation.
Holder, who gained something of a reputation for his impatience with his critics, dismissed them again today.
“Well, I can say that to those who think that they forced me out, I hate to break their hearts, but that’s totally untrue,” Holder told me in a telephone interview after the White House confirmed he would step down. “If they couldn’t force me out during the first term, with all of the things that they did – all the mistakes that they made – they certainly weren’t going to do it after what I think has been a relatively good period where we have moved on criminal justice reform, we’ve initiated the fight for voting rights, we’ve done a lot of good things around the issues of LGBT equality.”
Holder acknowledged that he is leaving some things undone – the Supreme Court is expected to take up challenges to state bans on gay marriage, and he had hoped to strengthen the Voting Rights Act – but he said he has accomplished much.
“I’ve made a lot of progress in these last few years – from civil rights, to criminal justice reform,” he said. “I think that now I’ve either accomplished what I’ve wanted to do, or I’ve left these issues in a good place for whoever succeeds me to continue this work. And I discussed this with the White House, with the President, and I think he and I have the same world view. We both decided now was the right time.”
“You really get to the point where – even if this were like 2017 January – there would still be issues left undone,” he added. “But I’m satisfied that we’ve done a good job with regard to the things that I could handle and that matter to me, and I’ve left in a good place those things that still require a certain amount of effort.”
Holder was severely criticized during his term for his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the men who planned the September 11 attack in a downtown New York federal courthouse – a decision he was forced to reverse after local outcry. The men are still in military prison.
“History has shown that the decision that I made was right,” he said with some force. “And if we had done it the way I had said we should have done it, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his confederates would probably be on death row right now, instead of lingering in a military commission.”
But Holder says he is still optimistic Republicans and Democrats can agree on some issues in the short run – including criminal justice reform.
The Attorney General plans to stay in place until his as-yet-unnamed successor is confirmed.
“It’s been a good run, but it’s time to let somebody else take a shot,” he said. “And let me get reacquainted with that wonderful woman who claims to be my wife.”