Holder has 'mixed emotions' on leaving Obama cabinet
Attorney General Eric Holder said he's resigning from his post, leaving President Barack Obama's cabinet after more than five years with "mixed emotions."
"This is a place that I love, and I think we have accomplished a great deal," he said in a brief conversation before riding in his motorcade to the White House with several members of his family. "There is a part of me that is always going to be here at the Justice Department. But it's time for me to move on."
Obama, at the White House ceremony, said the moment for him was "bittersweet." He said Holder served under six presidents of both parties and lauded his work prosecuting terrorists, enforcing civil rights laws and expanding voting rights.
"He believes, as I do, that justice is not just an abstract theory," Obama said. "It's a living and breathing principle."
Holder plans to stay in the job until a successor, who has yet to be named, is confirmed by the Senate.
Holder, 63, is one of three original members of Obama's cabinet still serving in the administration. He is the first black attorney general and the fourth-longest serving in U.S. history. Holder has been discussing plans to leave the job for more than a year as he tried to complete his agenda on federal sentencing and civil rights.
Possible successors who have been talked about by lawmakers as well as current and former administration officials include Solicitor General Donald Verrilli; Deputy Attorney General James Cole; Kathryn Ruemmler, the former White House counsel; and Lisa Monaco, a former assistant attorney general who currently is Obama's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.
Other potential candidates include California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a longtime Obama ally, and at least three Democratic U.S. senators, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota as well as former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller.
Three other potential candidates who are frequently mentioned have suggested they won't seek the job.
Deval Patrick, the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, said at an event today in Massachusetts that being the top federal prosecutor is "an enormously important job, but it's not one for me right now," according to his press office.
Jim Margolin, a spokesman for Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, declined to comment on Bharara's plans for the future or whether he is interested in Holder's job. In the past, Bharara's response to questions about higher office consistently has been, "I love my job."
FBI Director James Comey, a former deputy attorney general, told reporters in Washington today that he wasn't interested in succeeding Holder.
Holder has told friends he intends to leave by the end of the year, which would put Senate confirmation proceedings for Obama's nominee after the November congressional elections and before the next Congress is seated. That means Democrats still would hold their majority in the chamber when the nomination comes up for a vote, though Republicans would still be able to put hurdles in front of Obama's choice.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest refused to put any timetable on when Obama would make a decision. "We would anticipate a pretty seamless transition here," he told reporters traveling back to Washington with Obama.
Robert Raben, a former assistant attorney general and a friend of Holder's, said the attorney general has made it clear to Obama that he intended to resign by the end of the year. Given what he's been able to accomplish, Holder decided this was a good time to step aside, according to Raben.
"Eric is delighted and excited and amazed about what he has been able to do with various divisions in the Justice Department," he said.
Holder positioned himself at the vanguard of protecting racial and ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians from discrimination, fixing what he considers related flaws in the justice system, stepping in sometimes without congressional action.
Last year, he sued North Carolina and Texas to overturn voter-identification laws that he says unfairly target minorities.
He has instructed federal prosecutors to avoid charging low-level drug offenders in a way that triggered what he considers "draconian" mandatory minimum sentences. He unsuccessfully sought to try high-profile terrorism suspects held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in U.S. civilian courts.
Holder took the lead role in the administration's reaction to the racial strife that erupted after the shooting in August of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Myrlie Evers, widow of civil rights pioneer Medgar Evers, said Holder never shied away from the tough issues.
"There has been no greater ally in the fight for justice, civil rights, equal rights and voting rights than Attorney General Holder," she said in a statement today. "The attorney general was always there ready to correct injustices and offer common sense reforms to better our nation."
More recently, Obama asked him and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to deliver recommendations on actions the administration could take to ease deportations of undocumented immigrants and provide some of them with legal status. Obama has deferred making a decision until after the November congressional elections.
Holder also has been a frequent target of criticism from congressional Republicans.
The Republican-led House cited Holder for contempt of Congress in 2012 in a dispute about turning over documents related to a botched attempt to track gun-smuggling called Fast and Furious. Republicans faulted Holder's oversight of the operation and his responses to lawmakers' queries about it.
Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who led a committee investigation of the gun operation, called Holder "the most divisive U.S. attorney general in modern history."
"Attorney General Holder's legacy has eroded more confidence in our legal system than any attorney general before him," Issa said in a statement today. "Eric Holder administered justice as the political activist he describes himself as instead of an unbiased law enforcement official."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, had a similar reaction.
"I hope that the next attorney general will take seriously his role as the nation's top law enforcement officer, working with Congress to ensure that the laws of our land are followed instead of being a roadblock on the path to justice," Goodlatte said in a statement.
In February, Holder suffered a health scare that sent him to the hospital. Holder felt faint during a morning meeting and was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was treated for an elevated heart rate. He described the experience as "spooky."
"It will happen to all of you at some point, you zoom past your 30th, 40th, 50th birthday. When you get to 60, there is a certain sense of mortality you have to come to grips with, when you realize you have more yesterdays than tomorrows," he said in an interview with Bloomberg News in March.
With assistance from Derek Wallbank, Angela Greiling Keane and Tom Schoenberg in Washington and Margaret Talev in Air Force One.