Written by DTN
Eric Himpton Holder, Jr. was born on January 21, 1951 in the Bronx, New York and was raised in Elmhurst, Queens. His father (1905-1970) hailed from Barbados and worked as a real estate broker; his mother (Miriam) was the American-born daughter of immigrants from Saint Philip, Barbados.
In 1969 Holder enrolled at Columbia University, where he became involved in what he would later describe as the “rise of black consciousness” protests on campus. As a freshman, he took a leadership role with the Student Afro-American Society (SAAS), which demanded that the school's abandoned ROTC (Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps) office be renamed the “Malcolm X Lounge” -- “in honor of a man who recognized the importance of territory as a basis for nationhood.” In 1970, while still a freshman, Holder participated in a five-day occupation of that office; according to some accounts, the occupiers were armed. In addition, Holder and SAAS also occupied the office of Henry Coleman, Dean of Freshmen, until their demands were met.
Holder graduated from Columbia University in 1973 with a degree in American history. Three years later he earned a J.D. from Columbia Law School. During one of the summers between his law-school academic years, Holder worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Holder was employed by the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section from 1976 to 1988. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan appointed him as a Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Five years later, President Bill Clinton appointed Holder as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. In 1997 Clinton nominated Holder to replace Jamie Gorelick, the retiring Deputy Attorney General in Janet Reno’s Justice Department; Holder was confirmed by the Senate in a unanimous vote.
As Deputy Attorney General, Holder, as The Washington Post explains, “was the gatekeeper for presidential pardons.” Indeed, Holder was a key figure entrusted with the task of vetting the Clinton administration’s 176 last-minute pardons in January 2001. The beneficiaries of those pardons included such notables as former Weather Underground members Susan Rosenberg (who was involved in the deadly 1981 armed robbery of a Brink’s armored car) and Linda Evans (who had used false identification to buy firearms, had harbored a fugitive, and was in possession of 740 pounds of dynamite at the time of her arrest in 1985).
Holder played a particularly significant role in what was perhaps the most infamous of Clinton's 176 pardons—the one granted to the billionaire financier Marc Rich, a fugitive oil broker who had illegally purchased oil from Iran during the American trade embargo, and had then proceeded to hide more than $100 million in profits by using dummy transactions in off-shore corporations. Rich later renounced his American citizenship and fled to Switzerland to avoid prosecution for 51 counts of racketeering, wire fraud, tax fraud, tax evasion, and the illegal oil transactions with Iran.
Over the years, Rich’s ex-wife Denise had funneled at least $1.5 million to Clinton interests. Some $1.2 million went to the Democratic National Committee, $75,000 went to Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, and $450,000 helped finance the Bill Clinton Library in Arkansas. Mrs. Rich also had given expensive gifts to the Clintons and, according to some rumors, had a very close relationship with the President.
According to The New York Times:
“Mr. Holder had more than a half-dozen contacts with Mr. Rich’s lawyers over 15 months, including phone calls, e-mail and memorandums that helped keep alive Mr. Rich’s prospects for a legal resolution to his case. And Mr. Holder’s final opinion on the matter—a recommendation to the White House on the eve of the pardon that he was ‘neutral, leaning toward’ favorable—helped ensure that Mr. Clinton signed the pardon despite objections from other senior staff members.”
The Times details the sequence of events:
“Holder’s role in the Rich issue actually began … [a]t a corporate dinner in November 1998, [where] Mr. Holder was seated at a table with a public-relations executive named Gershon Kekst, who had been trying to help Mr. Rich resolve his legal troubles. When Mr. Kekst learned that his dinner companion was the deputy attorney general, he proceeded to bring up the case of an unnamed acquaintance who had been ‘improperly indicted by an overzealous prosecutor.’ … A person in that situation, Mr. Holder advised, should ‘hire a lawyer who knows the process, he comes to me, we work it out.’ Mr. Kekst wanted to know if Mr. Holder could suggest a lawyer. Mr. Holder pointed to a former White House counsel sitting nearby. ‘There’s Jack Quinn,’ he said. ‘He’s a perfect example.’ Months later, Mr. Rich’s advisers settled on Mr. Quinn to lead the legal efforts …”
“In February 2000, Mr. Quinn sent Mr. Holder a memorandum entitled ‘Why D.O.J. [Department of Justice] Should Review the Marc Rich Indictment.’ About a month later, Mr. Holder spoke with Mr. Quinn again and told him that ‘we’re all sympathetic’ and that the legal ‘equities’ in the issue were ‘on your side.’ … By the fall of 2000, efforts to re-open the criminal case were dead, and Mr. Rich’s lawyers had moved on to the idea of a pardon. Again, Mr. Quinn turned to Mr. Holder. On Nov. 21, 2000, at the close of a meeting on a separate topic, Mr. Quinn took Mr. Holder aside, told him he was planning on filing a lengthy pardon petition with the White House and asked whether the White House should contact Mr. Holder for his opinion … In a separate e-mail message that Mr. Quinn [had] sent three days before that to other members of the Rich team,… he wrote: ‘Spoke to him last evening. Says to go straight to W.H. [White House]. Also says timing is good.’ …
“For the next months, Mr. Rich’s team pressed ahead with the pardon … On Jan. 19, 2001, Mr. Quinn called Mr. Holder and let him know that the White House would be contacting him for his recommendation on the pardon, which he said was receiving ‘serious consideration.’ Mr. Holder told him that he did not have a personal problem with the pardon, and Mr. Quinn quickly passed on the gist of the conversation to the White House. Minutes later, Mr. Holder received a call from Beth Nolan, the White House counsel, who had opposed the pardon idea and was surprised to hear that Mr. Holder apparently felt differently.
“Mr. Holder, according to Ms. Nolan’s testimony, told her that if the Israelis were in fact pushing for the pardon, he would find that ‘persuasive’ and would be ‘neutral leaning toward’ favorable.”
The next day, President Clinton signed the pardon. Clinton later cited Holder’s assessment as one of the factors that had persuaded him to issue the pardon. And once the pardon was granted, Holder sent his congratulations to Quinn.
Although he clearly had interceded on Rich’s behalf beginning in 1999, Holder in 2001 told the Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, that “Mr. Rich’s name was unfamiliar to me” in 1999. Holder then elaborated that he had “gained only a passing familiarity with the underlying facts of the Rich case” during the months that followed.
But Holder's account was entirely untrue. As early as 1995, when Holder was the Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, his office had conducted an investigation into Rich and his business interests for tax evasion and other suspicious activity. Also in 1995, Holder's office filed a civil suit against the Swiss trading company Clarendon, Ltd. because that company, in obtaining $45 million in government contracts, had concealed the fact that it was controlled by Rich, whose history of fraud and his status as a fugitive rendered him legally ineligible for government contracts. Ultimately, Holder agreed to dismiss the case in exchange for a payment to the government of $1.2 million.
A March 2002 congressional report concluded that Rich's lawyers had tried to circumvent prosecutors (who they knew would oppose the pardon), and instead had chosen to take their case directly to the White House. Holder’s assistance in this process, coupled with his failure to alert prosecutors of a pending pardon, was crucial, said the report.
In 2009, when President Obama nominated Holder to be Attorney General, Holder, at the nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, was asked by Senator Arlen Specter: “Were you aware of the kind of record this man [Rich] had?” Holder replied:
"No I was not. And that was one of the mistakes that I made. I did not really acquaint myself with his record. I knew that the matter involved — it was a tax-fraud case; it was a substantial tax-fraud case. I knew that he was a fugitive. I did not know a lot of the underlying facts that you have described."
In written follow-up questions, Specter asked: “Did you receive information about the facts of the Rich case from anyone other than Mr. Rich’s attorney, Jack Quinn?” Holder responded, “No.”
Holder was also intimately involved in President Clinton’s August 11, 1999 pardon of 16 members of the FALN, acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation—a violent Puerto Rican terrorist organization (as designated by the FBI) that was active in the U.S. from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s.
The FALN was a Marxist-Leninist group whose overriding mission was to secure Puerto Rico’s political independence from the United States. Toward that end, between 1974 and 1983 the group detonated nearly 130 bombs in such strategically selected places as military and government buildings, financial institutions, and corporate headquarters located mainly in Chicago, New York, and Washington DC. These bombings were carried out as acts of protest against America’s political, military, financial, and corporate presence in Puerto Rico. All told, FALN bombs killed six people—including the Chilean ambassador to the United States—and wounded at least 80 others.
On April 4, 1980, eleven FALN members were arrested in Evanston, Illinois. More of their comrades would also be apprehended in Chicago in the early 1980s. All were charged with seditious conspiracy, but they refused to participate in their own trial proceedings—claiming defiantly that the U.S. government was an illegitimate entity and thus had no moral authority by which to sit in judgment of them. All the defendants were found guilty and were sentenced to federal prison terms ranging from 35 to 105 years.
On November 9, 1993, a self-identified “human rights” organization named Ofensiva ’92 filed a petition for executive clemency on behalf of 18 members of the FALN and another violent organization seeking Puerto Rican independence, Los Macheteros (“The Machete-Wielders”). According to a December 12, 1999 report issued by the House Committee on Government Reform, the prisoners themselves “refused to take part in any process that would legitimize the government’s actions against them, therefore they refused to file their own petitions.”
This presented a problem because the Department of Justice (DOJ) traditionally stipulates that clemency will be considered only if a prisoner first files a petition on his or her own behalf, an act which the Department views as a sign of contrition. Nonetheless, DOJ made an exception in this case and accepted Ofensiva ’92’s petition, a document which cast the FALN prisoners as blameless freedom fighters analogous to those Americans who had fought in the Revolutionary War against Britain.
Among the notables who joined Ofensiva ’92’s clemency crusade were Cardinal John O'Connor, Coretta Scott King, Jimmy Carter, and the National Lawyers Guild. Perhaps the most passionate support came from Democrat Representatives Luis Gutierrez (IL), Jose Serrano (NY), and Nydia Velazquez (NY), each of whom echoed Ofensiva ’92’s claim that the FALN members were “political prisoners” who deserved to be released.
The attorneys and advocates who were fighting for the freedom of the FALN prisoners first met with the Justice Department’s Pardon Attorney on July 19, 1994. In October 1996 they met with Jack Quinn, Counsel to the President. They were unsuccessful, however, in their efforts to convey the legitimacy of their cause to the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA), which in 1996 contacted the Justice Department and recommended against clemency; that recommendation, in turn, was forwarded to the White House.
But the matter was not over; OPA continued to meet with groups and individuals lobbying for clemency on behalf of the FALN terrorists. Then in 1997, Eric Holder—who was President Clinton’s new Deputy Attorney General (in the Justice Department headed by Janet Reno)—became involved in the case.
In this role, Holder was responsible for overseeing clemency investigations and determining which of those requests were ultimately worthy of President Clinton’s attention. As evidenced by a September 1997 memorandum from the Pardon Attorney, the Justice Department was, at this point, receiving numerous inquiries about the FALN and Macheteros—from the White House and from supporters of the prisoners. The aforementioned House Committee on Government Reform report stated: “Throughout the closing months of 1997 it appears that Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder was active in the issue. The privilege log reflects at least two notes regarding his questions on the clemency or his thoughts on the matter.”
On November 5, 1997, Holder met with Representatives Gutierrez, Serrano, and Velazquez to discuss the clemency issue. He advised the legislators that they might greatly increase the likelihood of a presidential pardon if they could convince the prisoners to write letters testifying as to the personal remorse they felt for their past actions. But no such letters would be produced for five months, during which time the clemency issue remained on hold. Meanwhile, in a January 6, 1998 letter a senior Justice Department official expressly referred to the FALN members as “terrorists.”
Then on April 8, 1998, Holder again met with FALN supporters. This time, they finally delivered statements from the prisoners as Holder had advised in November. But all the statements were identical—indicating that not one of the prisoners had made an effort to craft his own personal expression of repentance.
Undeterred, Holder then raised the question of whether the prisoners might at least agree to renounce future violence in exchange for clemency. One of the prisoners’ backers, Reverend Paul Sherry, made it clear that they surely “would not change their beliefs”—presumably about the issue of Puerto Rican independence—but was vague as to whether they were apt to eschew violence altogether.
Over the next few weeks, Holder and the Justice Department continued to meet with numerous advocates of clemency and to review pertinent materials which the latter brought forth on behalf of the prisoners. Holder clearly was the point man for these clemency negotiations. As Brian Blomquist wrote in the New York Post, “A list of FALN documents withheld from Congress shows that many memos on the FALN clemency decision went directly to Holder, while [Janet] Reno’s role was minimal.” Similarly, New York Daily News reporter Edward Lewine wrote that Holder was “the Justice Department official most involved with this issue.”
Throughout the clemency review process, neither Holder nor anyone else in the Justice Department contacted any of the people who had been victimized (or whose loved ones had been victimized) by the FALN. Most were never aware that clemency for the terrorists was even being contemplated. And those few who were aware of the possibility were rebuffed in their efforts to participate in the review process.
On May 19, 1998, the Pardon Attorney sent Eric Holder a 48-page draft memorandum “concerning clemency for Puerto Rican Nationalist prisoners.” Seven weeks later, on July 8, Holder sent President Clinton a “memorandum regarding clemency matter.” Indeed the Deputy Attorney General was methodically spearheading the march toward clemency—despite the fact that the sentencing judges, the U.S. Attorneys, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the FBI were unanimous in their opposition to pardoning the individuals in question.
In late July 1999 an attorney from Holder’s office spoke to White House Counsel Charles Ruff regarding the clemency matter. On August 9, 1999, Holder’s office and OPA held one final meeting to hammer out the details, and two days later the President made his announcement: clemency was granted to sixteen terrorists, most of whom had served only a fraction of their prison terms. Of the sixteen, twelve accepted the offer and were freed, two refused it, and two others, who already were out of prison, never responded.
In the aftermath of the clemencies, a Justice Department report stated that the FALN posed an “ongoing threat” to America's national security. And in late October 1999 the Senate Judiciary Committee released a report from Attorney General Janet Reno stating that the FALN members’ “impending release from prison” would “increase the present threat” of terrorism.
In an October 20th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, and again with reporters the following day, Eric Holder denied that Reno was referring to the same FALN terrorists whose pardons he had worked so long and hard to secure. Yet when Holder was asked to identify whom Reno was in fact talking about, he responded as follows:
“I don’t know, no, I don’t know that. We might be able to get you some more information on that, but, I mean, you know, there were certain people who are due to be released, or who were at least eligible for parole, had a release date in the next, as I said, three, four years. I don’t know exactly who they were. Maybe—we might be able to get you that information.”
Neither Holder nor the Justice Department ever provided any additional names.
In December 1999, a House Committee on Government Reform report stated:
“The 16 [FALN] terrorists appear to be most unlikely candidates. They did not personally request clemency. They did not admit to wrongdoing and they had not renounced violence before such a renunciation had been made a quid pro quo for their release. They expressed no contrition for their crimes, and were at times openly belligerent about their actions…. Notwithstanding the fact that the 16 did not express enough personal interest in the clemency process to file their own applications, the White House appeared eager to assist throughout the process. Meetings were held with supporters, and some senior staff [i.e., Holder] even suggested ways to improve the likelihood of the President granting the clemency. Overall, the White House appears to have exercised more initiative than the terrorists themselves.”
After the end of the Clinton presidency, Holder left the Justice Department and joined (as a partner) the Washington, DC law firm of Covington & Burling (C&B). In 2004 he met Barack Obama at a dinner party hosted by former White House aide Anne Walker Marchange, a niece of Clinton friend Vernon Jordan.
In the spring of 2007, shortly after launching his White House bid, Obama asked Holder to join his presidential campaign as a legal adviser and strategist. At that time, Holder's firm, C&B, was representing 17 Yemeni detainees (and one Pakistani national) in Guantanamo Bay. A former client of C&B was yet another Guantanamo detainee, from Kuwait, who had contributed to an anthology of detainee poetry compiled and published by Holder’s C&B colleague, Marc Falkoff. Falkoff likened the plight of these “gentle, thoughtful” poets, to that of the Jews who had been held in concentration camps during World War II. The aforementioned Kuwaiti was released from Guantanamo in 2005 and promptly resumed his terrorist activities. In March 2008 he blew himself up with a truck bomb in Mosul, Iraq, killing 13 Iraqi army soldiers and wounding 42 others.
In the summer of 2008, candidate Obama tapped Holder to serve on the vice presidential selection team that ultimately chose Joe Biden to be Obama’s running mate. In November 2008, President-elect Obama, who was slated to take his oath of office two months later, selected Holder to serve as his Attorney General.
At an American Constitution Society gathering in 2004, Holder made the following comments:
"Conservatives have been defenders of the status quo, afraid of the future, and content to allow to continue to exist all but the most blatant inequalities."
Conservatives have "made a mockery of the rule of law."
Conservatives try to "put the environment at risk for the sake of unproven economic theories, to play to the fears of our citizens, and not to their hopes, and to return the nation to a time that in fact never existed."
Conservatives are "breathtaking" in their "arrogance," which manifests itself in such things as "attacks on abortion rights," "energy policies that are as shortsighted as they are ineffective," and "tax cuts that disproportionately favor those who are well off and perpetuate many of the inequities in our nation."
The hallmarks of the "conservative agenda" include "social division, mindless tax cutting, and a defense posture that does not really make us safer."
"The nation must be convinced that it is a progressive future that holds the greatest promise for equality and the continuation of those policies that serve to support the greatest number of our people. In the short term this will not be an easy task. With the mainstream media somewhat cowered by conservative critics, and the conservative media disseminating the news in anything but a fair and balanced manner, and you know what I mean there, the means to reach the greatest number of people is not easily accessible."
In a 1995 address to the Woman's National Democratic Club, Holder announced the launch of a public campaign to "really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way." "What we need to do," he explained, "is change the way in which people think about guns, especially young people, and make it something that's not cool, that it's not acceptable, it's not hip to carry a gun anymore, in the way in which we changed our attitudes about cigarettes." Holder added that he had already asked advertising agencies to produce anti-gun ads rather than commercials "that make me buy things that I don't really need"; that he had urged local newspapers and television stations to devote prime space and time, respectively, to anti-gun themes; and that he had asked the local school board to make the anti-gun message a part of "every day, every school, and every level."
During his tenure as Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration from 1997 to 2001, Holder was a strong supporter of restrictive gun-control legislation. He advocated federal licensing of handgun owners; a three-day waiting period on all handgun sales; limits on handgun sales to no more than one per month; a ban on the possession of handguns and so-called "assault weapons" by anyone younger than 21; a law authorizing the federal government to shut down all gun shows; and a national gun-registration mandate.
Holder also advanced the notion that “Every day that goes by, about 12, 13 more children in this country die from gun violence”—a statistic that was true only if one classified 18-year-old, gun-wielding gangsters as “children.” In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Holder wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post calling for a new law that would give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms “a record of every firearm sale.” He also advocated that prospective gun buyers be checked against the secret “watch lists” compiled by the government.
While Holder served in the Clinton Justice Department, he oversaw the “instant” background-check system for prospective firearm purchasers. Under Holder's watch, constant breakdowns of that system halted gun sales for hours or even days at a time. Even by the end of the Clinton administration, from September 1999 to December 2000, the system was down about one hour for every 16.7 hours of operation. The breakdowns often came in big blocks of time; gun shows sometimes were unable to sell guns during the entire weekend that they were open. Notably, the breakdowns were quickly resolved within weeks of President Bush assuming office in 2001, and the problems did not recur.
In 2008, Holder argued that “the Second Amendment did not protect an individual right to keep and bear arms,” but only protected government militias’ rights to guns. Scholar and political commentator John Lott writes that he “can’t find even one gun control law that Holder has opposed.” “On every gun control regulation [Holder] has discussed,” says Lott, “he has been supportive, including: bans, raising the age that someone can possess a gun, registration and licensing, one-gun-a-month limit on purchases, and mandatory waiting periods.”
In the latter days of the Bush administration, Holder publicly condemned the Guantanamo Bay detention center as an “international embarrassment.” He accused the U.S. government of having “authorized torture and … let fear take precedence over the rule of law.” Further, he demanded an immediate end to warrantless eavesdropping by intelligence and counterterrorism officials.
In a June 2008 speech to the American Constitution Society (ACS), Holder, who was himself an ACS board of directors member, condemned “the disastrous course” which the Bush administration had followed in its efforts to combat terrorism. “Our needlessly abusive and unlawful practices in the ‘War on Terror,’” he said, “have diminished our standing in the world community and made us less, rather than more, safe.”
Holder added that the Bush administration had taken many steps that “were both excessive and unlawful” in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks:
“I never thought I would see the day when a Justice Department would claim that only the most extreme infliction of pain and physical abuse constitutes torture, and that acts that are merely cruel, inhuman and degrading are consistent with United States law and policy, that the Supreme Court would have to order the president of the United States to treat detainees in accordance with the Geneva Convention, never thought that I would see that a president would act in direct defiance of federal law by authorizing warrantless NSA surveillance of American citizens. This disrespect for the rule of law is not only wrong, it is destructive in our struggle against terrorism.”
In April 2009, reporters asked Holder whether he might seek to prosecute CIA agents who had carried out the Bush administration policies to which the Attorney General now objected. He replied: “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” Four months later, however, Holder referred their cases to a special federal prosecutor with broad and independent powers. In making this decision, the Attorney General ignored the bitter opposition of CIA Director Leon Panetta and even attorneys in his (Holder's) own Justice Department.
In 2004 Holder filed an amicus brief on behalf of al Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla, who had been dispatched to the United States by Osama bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to carry out a post-9/11, second wave of terrorist attacks. In the brief, Holder asserted that President Bush lacked the constitutional authority to determine the parameters of the battlefield in the war on terror. Padilla, for example, was arrested in an American airport when returning from a trip to Pakistan, where he had met with Mr. Mohammed to discuss plans for attacking U.S. interests. By Holder’s reckoning, Islamic terrorists had a right to be treated as criminal defendants, not enemy combatants, unless they were captured on a traditional battlefield.
As former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew C. McCarthy explains, Holder’s Padilla brief was "a comprehensive attack on Bush counterterrorism, an enthusiastic endorsement of the law-enforcement approach in vogue during the Clinton era (when Holder was deputy attorney general under Janet Reno, who also signed on to the Padilla brief)."
Notably, when the U.S. Senate in early 2009 deliberated vis a vis Holder's nomination for Attorney General, Holder failed to disclose seven legal briefs he had written or signed during the course of his professional career—most notably Amicus briefs on behalf of detained terrorists and enemy combatants like Padilla.
In May 2009, Holder announced that Ahmed Ghailani—who had been indicted by a federal grand jury for the 1998 bombings (which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans) of two U.S. embassies in Africa—would be transferred from the Guantanamo Bay detention center to New York City for trial. This would make Ghailani the first Guantanamo detainee brought to the U.S. and the first to face trial in a civilian criminal court. Said Holder:
"By prosecuting Ahmed Ghailani in federal court, we will ensure that he finally answers for his alleged role in the bombing of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.... This administration is committed to keeping the American people safe and upholding the rule of law, and by closing Guantanamo and bringing terrorists housed there to justice we will make our nation stronger and safer."
On November 13, 2009, Holder announced that his Justice Department would likewise try five Guantanamo Bay detainees with alleged ties to the 9/11 conspiracy, in a civilian court—the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The defendants were Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Walid bin Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM).
In response to Holder's announcement, political commentator Mona Charen wrote: “By granting a civil trial to KSM, while Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who bombed the USS Cole in Yemen, will receive a military tribunal, the U.S. telegraphs this message to terrorists: Wherever possible, attack our civilians. You'll get more lawyering and a better deal than if you attack our military. (And by the way, you'll get more rights than a member of our military who commits a crime.)”
After Holder's announcement that Islamic terror suspects would be tried in civilian courts rather than in military tribunals, many Americans began to wonder if U.S. military and law-enforcement personnel would be required to be read Miranda rights—which bar prosecutors from using, as evidence, statements which suspects make before they have been informed of their right to remain silent and to consult an attorney—to newly captured terror suspects. In a November 2009 Justice Department oversight hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) raised this issue in the following contentious exchange with Holder:
GRAHAM: Can you give me a case in United States history where a (sic) enemy combatant caught on a battlefield was tried in civilian court?
HOLDER: I don't know. I'd have to look at that. I think that, you know, the determination I've made —
GRAHAM: We're making history here, Mr. Attorney General. I'll answer it for you. The answer is no.... If bin Laden were caught tomorrow, would it be the position of this administration that he would be brought to justice?
HOLDER: He would certainly be brought to justice, absolutely.
GRAHAM: Where would you try him?
HOLDER: Well, we'd go through our protocol. And we'd make the determination about where he should appropriately be tried....
GRAHAM: If we captured bin Laden tomorrow, would he be entitled to Miranda warnings at the moment of capture?
HOLDER: Again I'm not—that all depends. I mean, the notion that we—
GRAHAM: Well, it does not depend. If you're going to prosecute anybody in civilian court, our law is clear that the moment custodial interrogation occurs the defendant, the criminal defendant, is entitled to a lawyer and to be informed of their right to remain silent. The big problem I have is that you're criminalizing the war, that if we caught bin Laden tomorrow, we'd have mixed theories and we couldn't turn him over—to the CIA, the FBI or military intelligence—for an interrogation on the battlefield, because now we're sayingâ€¨that he is subject to criminal court in the United States. And you're confusing the people fighting this war. What would you tell the military commander who captured him? Would you tell him, "You must read him his rights and give him a lawyer"? And if you didn't tell him that, would you jeopardize the prosecution in a federal court?
HOLDER: We have captured thousands of people on the battlefield, only a few of which have actually been given their Miranda warnings. With regard to bin Laden and the desire or the need for statements from him, the case against him at this point is so overwhelming that we do not need to—
GRAHAM: Mr. Attorney General, my only point—the only point I'm making, that if we're going to use federal court as a disposition for terrorists, you take everything that comes with being in federal court. And what comes with being in federal court is thatâ€¨the rules in this country, unlike military law—you can have military operations, you can interrogate somebody for military intelligence purposes, and the law-enforcement rights do not attach. But under domestic criminal law, the moment the person is in the hands of the United States government, they're entitled to be told they have a right to a lawyer and can remain silent. And if we go down that road, we're going to make this country less safe. That is my problem with what you have done.
The very next month, Holder's Justice Department elected to Mirandize the so-called “Christmas bomber,” al Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian-born Islamist who had tried to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines jet with explosives hidden inside his underwear. Informed of his right to remain silent, Abdulmutallab promptly chose to exercise it. Soon thereafter, several FBI agents traveled to Nigeria to plead with the suspect's family for assistance. Ultimately (and fortuitously), the family traveled to the U.S., where they persuaded Abdulmutallab to cooperate.
In May 2010, Holder and the Obama administration abruptly shifted their position regarding the highly controversial and politically radioactive matter of Miranda rights for terror suspects. Specifically, Holder and the administration said that they would thenceforth seek to pass a law allowing investigators to interrogate terrorism suspects without informing them of their Miranda rights. As Holder put it, interrogators needed greater flexibility to question such suspects than was permitted by existing exceptions.
On May 13, 2010, Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee. During that testimony, Rep. Lamar Smith tried to get the Attorney General to acknowledge that radical Islam might have played a role in motivating several recently attempted terrorist attacks against U.S. interests—most notably: (a) Major Nidal Malik Hasan's November 2009 shooting of 13 fellow U.S. soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas; (b) Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab's attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day 2009; and (c) Faisal Shahzad's attempted car bombing in New York's Times Square on May 1, 2010. Holder steadfastly refused to acknowledge Smith's assertion. A video and transcript of Holder's exchange with Smith can be viewed here.
Holder changes course and decides to try 9/11 mastermind in military tribunal
On April 4, 2011, Holder announced that the Justice Department, in an abrupt reversal of its November 2009 decision, would now proceed to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (and 4 co-conspirators) in a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay.
In a February 18, 2009 speech to Justice Department employees marking Black History Month, Holder alleged that Americans on the whole were afraid to confront racial issues in an honest or meaningful way. Among his remarks were the following:
"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.... [W]e, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and, given our nation’s history, this is in some ways understandable.... [T]his nation has still not come to grips with its racial past ... [A] black history month is a testament to the problem that has afflicted blacks throughout our stay in this country. Black history is given a separate, and clearly not equal, treatment by our society in general and by our educational institutions in particular."
On April 23, 2010, Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, signed into law a bill deputizing state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of any individuals whom they had stopped for some legitimate reason, if the behavior of those individuals—or the circumstances of the stop—led the officers to suspect that they might be in the United States illegally. In the ensuing days and weeks, Holder spoke out forcefully against the bill and indicated that the federal government might challenge it. During the weekend of May 8-9, he participated in a number of television interviews in which he warned that the law could lead to racial profiling and might cause Latinos to stop cooperating with police. But in a May 13 House hearing, Holder admitted that he had not read the statute: "I have not had a chance to. I've glanced at it. I have not read it."
Eventually, Holder's Justice Department filed suit against Arizona in an effort to prevent the immigration law from taking effect. The suit resulted in court rulings that blocked key portions of the law. By November 2011, the Justice Department would file similar suits against three additional states (Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah) that likewise had passed laws designed to stem the flow of illegal immigration.
On Election Day, 2008, two members of the New Black Panther Party—Jerry Jackson and King Samir Shabazz—intimidated white voters with racial slurs and threats of violence at a Philadelphia polling place. Bartle Bull, a former civil rights attorney and campaign aide to the late Robert F. Kennedy, witnessed the Panthers' actions and characterized them as "the most blatant form of voter intimidation" he had ever seen. Because Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits intimidation, coercion and threats to voters or those aiding voters, the Bush Justice Department filed a civil-rights lawsuit not only against the aforementioned Jackson and Shabazz, but also against the New Black Panther Party and its national chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz.
In 2009, the Obama administration inherited that lawsuit from the outgoing Bush administration. When the defendants failed to answer the suit, a federal court in Philadelphia entered a default judgment against them. But the Holder Justice Department responded by suddenly dropping the charges against the Panthers and two of the defendants; the third defendant was merely barred from displaying a weapon near a Philadelphia polling place for the next three years.
In June 2010, J. Christian Adams, a five-year Department of Justice (DOJ) veteran, resigned to protest the “corrupt nature” of DOJ's dismissal of the case against the Panthers. “I mean we were told, 'Drop the charges against the New Black Panther Party,'” he told Fox News. In July 2010, Adams gave damning public testimony about how the DOJ believed that “civil rights law should not be enforced in a race-neutral manner, and should never be enforced against blacks or other national minorities.”
Christopher Coates—Voting Section Chief for the DOJ—testified to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and corroborated Adams' assertion that the Department had routinely ignored civil rights cases involving white victims. For more than a year previously, Holder's DOJ had denied the Commission's requests to hear Coates' testimony and had instructed Coates not to testify. But in September 2010, Coates finally went public with his story and asked for protection under whistleblower laws. For the full text of Coates' testimony, click here.
In testimony he gave on March 1, 2011, Holder assured the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies that politics had played no role whatsoever in DOJ's handling of the New Black Panther Party case: “The decisions made in the New Black Panther Party case were made by career attorneys in the department,” said the Attorney General. But documents obtained in 2012 by Judicial Watch, pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, revealed that top political appointees at DOJ were intimately involved in the decision to drop the voter intimidation lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party. DOJ had initially refused to turn over the documents, contending that they didn’t show “any political interference whatsoever.” But Judge Reggie B. Walton in Washington, DC District Court disagreed. Allowing the release of the documents on July 23, 2012, he declared that they “reveal that political appointees within DOJ were conferring about the status and resolution of the New Black Panther Party case in the days preceding the DOJ’s dismissal of claims in that case[.]”
In July 2010, Holder's Justice Department released the former Marxist terrorist Marilyn Buck from prison, where she was serving an 80-year sentence that began in the 1980s. Buck had helped the Black Liberation Army (BLA) member and convicted cop-killer Assata Shakur escape from prison in 1979; helped the BLA acquire weapons and ammunition; participated in the deadly 1981 Brink's armored-car robbery; and played a role in a number of bombings—directed against the U.S. Senate, three military installations in the Washington D.C. area, and four sites in New York City. Explaining the rationale for Buck's release, Justice Department officials said that Buck had learned her lesson and had “expressed a dramatic change from her previous political philosophy.” After discovering in early summer 2010 that Buck had contracted uterine cancer and was not expected to live much longer, Holder’s officials released her even earlier than scheduled, on July 15, 2010. She died less than a month later.
In a January 2011 address to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Civil Rights, Holder cited a 2005 report based on EPA data which showed that African Americans were almost 80 percent more likely than whites to live near hazardous industrial pollution sites. He said:
“In 2011, the burden of environmental degradation still falls disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color.... This is unacceptable. And it is unconscionable. But through the aggressive enforcement of federal environmental laws in every community, I believe that we can—and I know that we must—change the status quo.”
In 2011, Holder's Justice Department pushed to maximize Democratic voter turnout for the 2012 elections by filing “motor voter” suits across the country, complaining that state agencies were not circulating voter-registration forms in social service agencies. By contrast, the Justice Department made no effort to enforce another section of the law requiring states purge voter rolls of dead persons and ineligible felons.
In late May 2012, Holder's DOJ ordered the state of Florida to halt its efforts to identify and purge its voter rolls of non-citizens. The DOJ’s lead civil-rights lawyer said that his Department had not yet determined whether Florida's efforts "neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group."
Florida did not back down. “We have an obligation to make sure the voter rolls are accurate and we are going to continue forward and do everything that we can legally do to make sure than ineligible voters cannot vote,” said Chris Cate, a spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “We are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot. We are not going to give up our efforts to make sure the voter rolls are accurate.”
Earlier in 2012 Secretary Detzner had worked with Florida’s Department of Motor Vehicles to identify more than 2,600 people who were registered to vote despite being non-citizens at the time they applied for a driver’s license. Further, Detzner said that earlier efforts by his agency had identified 182,000 voters who were non-citizens by comparing voter rolls and driver’s-license databases. Detzner also revealed that he and his staff had been refused access by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to the federal database containing more up-to-date immigration and citizenship information. In other words, the DHS would not assist Florida in its effort to be as non-discriminatory as possible, even as Holder's DOJ insisted that Florida was engaging in discrimination.
Also in Florida, some 53,000 dead registered voters had been discovered when the state compared voter rolls to federal Social Security files for the first time—as a result of the passage of an election law by the GOP-controlled legislature.
When Florida failed to comply with Holder's demand that it stop purging the voter rolls of dead people and non-citizens, the DOJ on June 12, 2012 filed a lawsuit against Florida.
Also as of June 2012, DOJ had already filed suit against both Texas and South Carolina for enacting voter photo ID statutes; yet a 6-3 ruling by the United States Supreme Court in 2008 had already upheld the right of a state (in that case, Indiana) to require such identification for voting. Thus the DOJ suit implied that Holder and company believe each state must file individual suits to achieve the same right.
In a July 2010 column for PJ Media, former DOJ Voting Section attorney J. Christian Adams had written: “In November 2009, the entire Voting Section was invited to a meeting with Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes…to discuss Motor Voter enforcement decisions. The room was packed with dozens of Voting Section employees when she made her announcement regarding the provisions related to voter list integrity: ‘We have no interest in enforcing this provision of the law. It has nothing to do with increasing turnout, and we are just not going to do it.’”
As U.S. Attorney General, Holder, who contends that nearly one in four black people lack photo identification, has consistently opposed efforts to pass voter-ID laws designed to combat voter fraud. According to Holder, such laws—which either took effect or became pending in 11 states between 2008 and 2012—have the effect of disenfranchising nonwhite minorities. “It is time to ask: What kind of nation and what kind of people do we want to be?” Holder said in a December 2011 speech condemning voter ID. “Are we willing to allow this era—our era—to be remembered as the age when our nation’s proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended?”
In a May 2012 meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus and black church leaders, Holder said that during the preceding two years, the Justice Department had challenged “two dozen state laws and executive orders from more than a dozen states that could make it significantly harder for many eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.″ Added Holder:
“Despite our nation’s long history of extending voting rights to non-property owners and to women, to people of color, to Native Americans, and to younger Americans, today a growing number of our fellow citizens are worried about the same disparities, divisions and problems that nearly five decades ago so many fought to address. In my travels across this country I’ve heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from citizens who for the first time in their lives now have reason to believe that we are failing to live up to one of our nation’s most noble ideals and some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement now hang, again, in the balance.”
Further, Holder asserted that conservatives in a number of states were enacting photo-identification requirements at polling places as a pretext for blocking “access” to the voting booth for blacks and other nonwhite minorities. According to the Attorney General, voter fraud was much too rare to warrant such measures. Hoover Institution senior fellow Thomas Sowell offered this assessment of Holder's position:
“Since millions of black Americans—like millions of white Americans—are confronted with demands for photo identification at airports, banks and innumerable other institutions, it is a little much to claim that requiring the same thing to vote is denying the right to vote.... Holder’s pooh-poohing of voter fraud dangers, and hyping the 'threat' of denying minorities 'access' to the voting booth, are completely consistent with his drive to (1) maximize the number of votes by black Democrats and (2) spread as much fear as possible among minorities that they are under siege, and that the Democrats are their only protection and salvation.”
In the fall of 2011, controversy arose over Holder's role in endorsing “Fast and Furious,” a program which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (ATF)—an agency of the Justice Department—had administered during 2009-10. In that initiative, the ATF sold some 2,500 guns—including 34 sniper rifles with an effective lethal range of approximately 2,000 meters—to “straw purchasers” in the U.S. who agreed to subsequently smuggle the guns into Mexico and put them in the hands of cartel leaders, who supposedly were to be arrested at some subsequent point.
The entire "Fast and Furious" operation ended with only 20 indictments of straw purchasers—all of whom were already familiar to U.S. authorities from the outset. Moreover, the program was linked directly to two weapons found on the scene where U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered in Arizona in December 2010. By the fall of 2011, the weapons that had been transferred as part of "Fast and Furious" had been used in at least 200 murders in Mexico. They also had been identified at 11 additional crime scenes in the United States.
Conservative columnist Ann Coulter offered an insightful analysis of the motivations that underpinned "Fast and Furious," which she characterized as "the most shockingly vile corruption scandal in the history of the country":
Administration officials intentionally put guns into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, so that when the guns taken from Mexican crime scenes turned out to be American guns, Democrats would have a reason to crack down on gun sellers in the United States....
[I]t's curious that Democrats all started telling the same lie about guns as soon as Obama became president. In March 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced to reporters on a trip to Mexico: "Since we know that the vast majority, 90 percent of that weaponry (used by Mexican drug cartels), comes from our country, we are going to try to stop it from getting there in the first place."
As she sentimentally elaborated on Fox News' Greta Van Susteren show: "The guns sold in the United States, which are illegal in Mexico, get smuggled and shipped across our border and arm these terrible drug-dealing criminals so that they can outgun these poor police officers along the border and elsewhere in Mexico."
Suddenly that 90 percent statistic was everywhere....CBS' Bob Schieffer asked Obama on Face the Nation: "It's my understanding that 90 percent of the guns that they're getting down in Mexico are coming from the United States. We don't seem to be doing a very good job of cutting off the gun flow. Do you need any kind of legislative help on that front? Have you, for example, thought about asking Congress to reinstate the ban on assault weapons?"
At a Senate hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said: "It is unacceptable to have 90 percent of the guns that are picked up in Mexico and used to shoot judges, police officers and mayors ... come from the United States."
And then, thanks to Fox News -- the first network to report it -- we found out the 90 percent figure was complete bunkum. It was a fabrication told by William Hoover, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF), and then spread like wildfire by Democrats and the media.
Mexican law-enforcement authorities send only a fraction of the guns they recover from criminals back to the U.S. for tracing. Which guns do they send? The guns that have U.S. serial numbers on them. It would be like asking a library to produce all their Mark Twain books and then concluding that 90 percent of the books in that library are by Mark Twain....
Obama backed away from the preposterous 90 percent claim. His National Security Council spokesman explained to Fox News that by "recovered," they meant "guns traceable to the United States." ... Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that even if the percentage is inaccurate, the "vast majority" of guns seized in crimes in Mexico come from the United States. And he should know, because it turns out he was sending them there!
Apart from the guns Holder was giving them, this was an absurd claim. Most of the guns used by drug cartels are automatic weapons -- not to mention shoulder-fired rockets -- that can't be sold to most Americans. They are acquired from places like Russia, China and Guatemala.
Right about the time the 90 percent lie was unraveling, the Obama administration decided to directly hand thousands of American guns over to Mexican criminals. Apart from the fact that tracking thousands of guns into Mexico is not feasible or rational, the dumped guns didn't have GPS tracing devices on them, anyway. There is no conceivable law-enforcement objective to such a program....
We also know that hundreds of people were murdered with these U.S.-government-supplied guns, including at least one American, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry....
No one has explained what putting 2,500 untraceable guns in the hands of Mexican drug dealers was supposed to accomplish.
But you know what that might have accomplished? It would make the Democrats' lie retroactively true -- allowing them to push for the same gun restrictions they were planning when they first concocted it. A majority of guns recovered from Mexican criminals would, at last, be American guns, because Eric Holder had put them there.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, some brave whistleblower inside the government leaked details of this monstrous scheme. As soon as Congress and the public demanded answers, Holder clammed up. He just says "oops" -- and accuses Republicans of racism.
While being questioned under oath during a Judiciary Committee hearing on May 3, 2011, Holder indicated that he had known nothing about "Fast and Furious" until about April 2011. But soon thereafter, a newly discovered memo (dated July 2010) showed that Michael Walther, director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, had already told Holder that straw buyers in the "Fast and Furious" operation "are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to the Mexican drug trafficking cartels." Other documents also indicated that Holder had begun receiving weekly briefings on the program from the National Drug Intelligence Center no later than July 5, 2010. Moreover, former ATF special agent William Newell testified under oath that “the DHS, IRS, DEA, ATF, ICE and the Obama Justice Department were all involved” in the operation.
In 2011 the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a subpoena instructing Holder to turn over all internal Justice Department documents related to the "Fast and Furious" program. As of late June, 2012, DOJ had supplied fewer than 8 percent of the 80,000 documents the congressional investigators sought. (Further, DOJ had blocked 48 of the 70 Justice Department officials who were involved in Fast and Furious, from testifying.) House Republicans continued to pressure the Attorney General to turn over the remaining documents, but Holder refused.
On June 20, 2012, President Obama granted a request by Holder to exert executive privilege over the documents in question. That same day, the House Committee—having exhausted all other means of obtaining the documents from the Justice Department—voted 23 to 17 (in a vote that was split along party lines) to hold the Attorney General in contempt of Congress for failing to produce the missing documents.
On June 28, 2012, the full House of Representatives voted 255-67 to uphold the criminal contempt charge against Holder. Most Democrats walked out of the vote in a gesture of protest led by the Congressional Black Caucus, but 17 Democrats sided with the majority Republicans. The vote represented the first time a U.S. Attorney General had ever been held in contempt by a chamber of Congress.
Minutes after the criminal contempt vote, the House voted 258-95 (with 21 Democrats joining the Republican majority) to pursue a civil contempt case against Holder in court.
In response to the contempt charges against him, Holder suggested that Republicans were retaliating against him because he had blocked voter-identification laws in a number of states. “Today’s vote may make for good political theater in the minds of some, but it is, at base, both a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people,” he said. “They expect—and deserve—far better.”
On September 19, 2012, the Justice Department's inspector general issued a report saying there was no evidence that Holder had known about Fast & Furious. Instead, the report blamed a total of 18 DOJ officials, most notably the high-ranking Jason Weinstein (number two in the Justice Department's Criminal Division) and Kenneth Melson (former head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) for "a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgement and management failures."
In February 2012 it was reported that radical Muslim groups in the United States had repeatedly met with high-ranking Obama administration officials to complain that the usage of the term “radical Islam” in FBI curricula was both “offensive” and “racist.” In response, Holder and FBI director Robert Mueller issued directives requiring all such language to be purged from FBI training materials. Among the more than 1,000 items destroyed or removed by the FBI and the DOJ were PowerPoints and articles that defined jihad as “holy war,” and presentations that portrayed the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization which seeks to establish Islam's dominion over all the world -- a goal the Brotherhood has candidly and publicly declared for decades.
During a February 2012 forum at Columbia University, Holder voiced his support for affirmative action, saying that he “can’t actually imagine a time in which the need for more diversity would ever cease.” Added Holder: “Affirmative action has been an issue since segregation practices. The question is not when does it end, but when does it begin; when do people of color truly get the benefits to which they are entitled?”
In a February 25, 2012 speech to the organization 100 Black Men of Atlanta, Holder lamented the findings of a 2011 study of discipline patterns in Texas schools. Holder said the study showed that “83 percent of African American male students and 74 percent of Hispanic male students ended up in trouble and suspended for some period of time” -- as compared to 59% of white male students. “We’ve often seen that students of color, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and students with special needs are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled,” Holder stated. “This is, quite simply, unacceptable.… These unnecessary and destructive policies must be changed.” After citing the Texas study, Holder added that “tellingly, 97 percent of all suspensions were discretionary and reflected the administrator’s discipline philosophy as much as the student’s behavior.” In his speech, Holder ignored data indicating that the different discipline rates were consistent with differences in actual schoolyard behavior.
"...Reverend Sharpton ... I am especially grateful ... for your partnership, your friendship, and your tireless efforts to speak out for the voiceless, to stand up for the powerless, and to shine a light on the problems we must solve, and the promises we must fulfill.... I am honored to be included in this annual gathering once again -- and to bring greetings from President Obama.... This organization's leaders, members, and supporters have been on the front lines of our nation's fight to secure security, opportunity, and justice for all.... [Y]ou are carrying on ... the work of a leader [Martin Luther King, Jr.] who, I believe, does stand as America's greatest 'drum major for justice' ...
"Despite the extraordinary progress that has marked the last four decades and transformed our entire society, the unfortunate fact is that -- in 2012 -- our nation's long struggle to overcome injustice, to eliminate disparities, to bridge long-standing divisions, and to eradicate violence has not yet ended...."
On April 23, 2012, Holder's Justice Department sued Jacksonville, Florida, claiming that the city's use of written tests to determine promotions in its fire department had "resulted in a disparate impact upon black candidates," who registered passing grades at significantly lower rates than their white counterparts.
On September 18, 2012, The Daily Caller reported that internal DOJ emails (obtained via the Freedom of Information Act) showed that Holder's communications staff had secretly collaborated with Media Matters For America in an effort to discredit and suppress further news stories about scandals that were plaguing Holder and his agency. According to The Daily Caller:
"Dozens of pages of emails [sent in September and November 2010] between DOJ Office of Public Affairs Director Tracy Schmaler and Media Matters staffers show Schmaler, Holder’s top press defender, working ... with Media Matters staffer Jeremy Holden on attacking news coverage of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation scandal....
"At 9:50 a.m. on July 8, 2011, Media Matters’ Matt Gertz wrote to Schmaler asking for her help 'debunking what I think is a conservative media myth about Operation Fast and Furious.'"
For further details about these and other collaborations between Media Matters and DOJ, click here.
In the wake of the deadly Boston Marathon bombing by two Islamic terrorists on April 15, 2013, the surviving bomber, Dzhokar Tsarnaev -- who had been wounded by law-enforcement officers pursuing him -- was interrogated by FBI agents in a Boston hospital. He was not read his Miranda rights prior to the questioning, due to a 48-hour “public safety exemption” that can be invoked in cases where there is reason to believe that a suspect may be able to provide information that could help authorities prevent additional, imminent acts of terror or destruction. During the first 16 hours of questioning, Tsarnaev revealed a significant amount of highly useful intelligence. But then, on orders from the Justice Department, federal judge Marianne Bowler entered Tsarnaev's hospital room and, in a move that stunned the FBI investigators who were present, read him his Miranda rights. From that point onward, Tsarnaev refused to talk.
Fourteen days after the Boston Marathon bomb attack, Holder declared that the Justice Department would be on the lookout for any acts of violence or discrimination indicative of a backlash against Muslim Americans. Without mentioning the fact that the two perpetrators were Muslims, the Attorney General said:
"[J]ust as we will pursue relentlessly anyone who would target our people or attempt to terrorize our cities -- the Justice Department is firmly committed to protecting innocent people against misguided acts of retaliation. In the dozen years since 9/11, this commitment has led the Department to investigate more than 800 incidents involving threats, assaults, and acts of vandalism and violence targeting Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, South Asians, and others who are perceived to be members of these groups. As Americans, we must not allow any group to be stigmatized or alienated. We must not tolerate acts of hatred."
In an April 24 speech to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund Awards Gala, Holder said: “The way we treat our friends and neighbors who are undocumented – by creating a mechanism for them to earn citizenship and move out of the shadows – transcends the issue of immigration status. This is a matter of civil and human rights.”
On May 13, 2013, it was learned that the Justice Department had secretly obtained the records of telephone calls that, in April and May of 2012, had been routed through more than 20 separate phone lines assigned to the Associated Press (AP); those lines had been used by over 100 AP reporters and editors.
DOJ claimed that its actions were part of an investigation into AP's May 7, 2012 publication of a story (based on leaked, classified materials) disclosing the CIA's infiltration of an al Qaeda plot to detonate a bomb aboard an airplane. Notably, the five reporters and an editor who had been assigned to that particular AP story were among those who had their phone records seized by DOJ.
According to strict DOJ rules, phone records from news organizations can be obtained only with a subpoena that is issued after "all reasonable attempts" have been made to get the same information from other sources (which DOJ elected not to do). Moreover, DOJ rules stipulate that the subpoena must be approved personally by the Attorney General. But at a May 14, 2013 press conference, Eric Holder said that he had recused himself from the DOJ investigation of AP, and that Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole had issued the subpoena. Thus, when reporters began asking Holder specific questions about the seizure of AP's phone records, the Attorney General pleaded ignorance. “I frankly don’t have knowledge of those facts,” he contended. When Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin asked Holder why he had recused himself, the Attorney General replied: "I was interviewed as one of the people who had access to the info"—in other words, he was a potential suspect in the leak.
In a subsequent letter sent to Holder, AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt stated: "There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know."
AP reporters were equally upset. Said one AP reporter: “We all know that confidential sourcing is the lifeblood of what we do, and people can’t come to us if they think they’re going to be compromised. It’s hard enough getting sources, now we’re afraid this is going to have a chilling effect.”
On May 16, 2013, the Washington Post broke a major story explaining the real motives behind the Justice Department's actions. Specifically, said the Post, AP was prepared to publish its scoop about the CIA's infiltration of the al Qaeda plot on May 2, 2012. But the CIA—particularly its deputy director, Michael J. Morell—told the news service that publishing the story at that point would compromise a “sensitive intelligence operation” with serious national-security implications. Morell said that the agency would need several more days to protect whatever it had in the works, and that AP could publish its story as soon as that had been accomplished.
Then, on May 7, 2012, CIA officials told AP that national-security concerns were “no longer an issue,” but nonetheless requested that the news agency delay publication for one more day. This was because the Obama administration was planning to announce the CIA's successful counterterrorism operation the following morning—May 8, 2012, when the president’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, was slated to appear on Good Morning America. Given the fact that national security was no longer an issue, however, AP disregarded the CIA's request and published the story on May 7. That is what prompted Eric Holder's Justice Department to illegally procure AP's telephone records.
On May 20, 2013, it was revealed that DOJ's efforts to intimidate the media went beyond targeting reporters and editors at the Associated Press. The Washington Post reported that DOJ had not only seized the phone records of Fox News reporter James Rosen, but had used his security badge to access records tracking his movements at the State Department, traced the timing of his calls with a Department security advisor suspected of giving him classified information, and obtained a search warrant to access his personal emails.
That same day (May 20), it was reported that two more Fox News staffers -- reporter William La Jeunesse and producer Mike Levine -- had also been targeted by DOJ.
Rosen's case in particular centered around his involvement with State Department advisor Steven Kim, an arms expert with security clearance. Kim is a naturalized citizen from South Korea who was indicted in 2009 for telling Rosen that the intelligence community believed that North Korea’s response to additional UN sanctions would be another test of its nuclear capabilities. Rosen published a story to that effect on June 11, 2009, noting that the CIA had received the information form sources inside North Korea.
That story was posted the same day that a top-secret report was made available to Kim and 95 other members of the intelligence community. Using the surveillance techniques described above, the FBI built a case contending that the information Rosen received had come directly from those documents, and that Kim was in violation of the Espionage Act. Yet Kim did not obtain unauthorized access to top-secret information, steal or sell documents or secrets, or collaborate with the enemy. He gave exclusive information to a reporter, a reality that occurs every day. Furthermore, according to the New York Times, four months prior to disseminating the aforementioned information to Rosen, Kim was asked by a State Department press officer to speak to Rosen about North Korea, “and the two began to talk and exchange e-mails,” the paper reported.
In building the case against Kim, DOJ -- invoking a wartime law known as the Espionage Act -- secretly (without notifying Rosen) issued a subpeona, personally signed by Eric Holder, to gain access to two days’ worth of Rosen’s personal emails and to all of his email exchanges with Kim. Notably, two judges initially denied DOJ's request for approval of the subpoena; finally a third judge, Royce C. Lamberth, the chief judge in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, overturned the rulings of the first two judges and approved the subpoena.
In an affidavit, FBI agent Reginald Reyes revealed DOJ’s rationale for investigating Rosen: “From the beginning of their relationship, the Reporter [Rosen] asked, solicited and encouraged Mr. Kim to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information about the Foreign Country. The Reporter did so by employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim’s vanity and ego.” More importantly, Reyes further declared that there was evidence that Rosen had broken the law “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator.”
The fact that Holder personally signed off on the subpoena involving Rosen is highly significant, because on May 15, 2013, the Attorney General had testified, under oath, to the House Judiciary Committee: "With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something I've ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy." But that is precisely what the government was trying to do in the Rosen case; i.e., the FBI alleged that there was “probable cause to believe” that Rosen was a “co-conspirator and/or aider and abettor ... committing the criminal offense…”
The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald explained the implications of the DOJ targeting Rosen:
“Under U.S. law, it is not illegal to publish classified information. That fact, along with the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedoms, is what has prevented the U.S. government from ever prosecuting journalists for reporting on what the U.S. government does in secret. This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ -- that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for ‘soliciting’ the disclosure of classified information -- is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself.”
Fox News’ Brit Hume echoed that assessment. “The Obama-Holder Justice Department is now prepared to treat the ordinary newsgathering actives of reporters to seek information from government officials as a possible crime,” he warned.
On May 21, 2013 -- the day after the revelations about DOJ's targeting of Rosen, La Jeunesse, and Levine were made public -- it was learned that according to documents from October 2011, the Justice Department had seized phone records associated with several Fox News lines as part of a leak investigation. The documents showed exchanges matching the specific locations of Fox News' operations at the White House, Pentagon, State Department, and elsewhere.
A few days after the news broke about how Holder had authorized DOJ to seize Rosen's personal emails, the attorney general's aides reported that Holder felt “a creeping sense of personal remorse.”