The Survivor: How Eric Holder outlasted his (many) critics

Why the hell is Eric Holder still around? That’s a question many of Barack Obama’s political advisers have asked at various points throughout Holder’s tumultuous five years at the helm of the Justice Department.

For most of Obama’s presidency, in fact, if there’s been controversy, Holder was likely to be in the middle of it, from the failed efforts to close Guantánamo Bay and to prosecute alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a Manhattan court to his inability to send Wall Street executives involved in the mortgage meltdown to jail. His detractors in the West Wing of the White House, and there have been many, have seen the attorney general as a never-ending source of questionable decisions, tin-eared political missteps and off-the-reservation remarks. “If it was coming out of the Justice Department,” a former top adviser to Obama recalled to me, “it was bad news.”

Congress has it in for Holder, too: House Republicans howled for his scalp after voting him in contempt of Congress two years ago in a dispute over a gun investigation gone awry, making Holder the first Cabinet member ever to be sanctioned. And at least one Hill Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, suggested Holder step down after it was revealed the department had secretly obtained journalists’ phone records as part of leak investigations involving the Associated Press and Fox News. “Whenever you feel that you have lost your effectiveness … to the detriment of the job that you do,” Manchin told Bloomberg, “decisions have to be made.”

And yet Holder, an affable, ambitious and stubborn 63-year-old career prosecutor, has not only weathered these attacks but emerged, improbably, with greater leverage and more access to Obama than ever. How did he do it? To start, it helps that he is one of the few administration figures to cross the threshold from employee to friend of the famously reserved president. Holder, in fact, is one of the only Cabinet members Obama routinely invites over for dinner and drinks (Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a hoops buddy from Chicago, is another) and the only one who times his summer vacation to hang out with the president on Martha’s Vineyard. Their wives are even closer, and Michelle Obama is a not infrequent drop-in guest for Friday pizza night at Holder’s house. Besides, the attorney general is nothing if not a loyalist, an increasingly valuable commodity to a second-term president rattled by accelerating congressional investigations. Obama clearly respects Holder’s four decades of experience as an attorney and judge and supports Holder's positions on LGBT rights and racial profiling, often telling his staff he recognizes it’s not all Holder’s fault: The job of attorney general is a “shit magnet” for the most intractable controversies.

Obama has resisted calls from inside and outside the administration to dismiss Holder. | Paul J. Richards/ AFP/Getty Images

But there’s another explanation, and according to the two dozen current and former Obama administration officials and confidants of both men I’ve spoken with in recent weeks, it may well be the main reason the first black president of the United States has stood so firmly behind the first black attorney general of the United States: Holder has been willing to say the things Obama couldn’t or wouldn’t say about race.

“He’s a race man,” says Charles Ogletree, a longtime friend of Holder’s who taught and mentored Obama and his wife, Michelle, as Harvard Law School students in the 1980s. “He’s gone farther and deeper into some issues of race than the White House would like, but I know he has the president’s well-wishes. It’s clear [Obama and Holder] believe in the same things.”

Holder himself recently told another African-American friend that he feels part of his job is “to talk about things the president can’t talk about as easily.” Asked to describe Holder’s role, one of his former top aides described him as “Obama’s heat shield.”

There’s no question that Obama has resisted calls, from inside and outside the administration, to dump Holder, including quiet rumblings by some aides who wanted Obama to ease him out after the 2012 reelection.

But the president brushed off such talk, as he has done repeatedly with those who have tried and failed to come between him and his AG. From the start, the White House staff has been at odds with Holder—a conflict that, my sources told me, has been one of the longest-running hidden dramas of this White House. “He says he’s on Team Obama, but he’s really on Team Holder,” one top Obama aide told me.

The bad blood goes all the way back to a month into Obama’s first term—as the West Wing staff was working 18-hour days to keep the economy from collapsing—when Holder jolted Obama’s team seemingly out of nowhere. Tellingly, the subject was race. Holder informed the White House he planned to deliver a Black History Month speech but never got around to telling Obama’s aides what he would actually say, a habit that would infuriate the White House time and again over the years—and underscore Holder’s special standing in Obama’s world.

“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,” Holder declared to a gathering of Justice Department employees—a bombshell assertion that caused the predictable rage among Obama’s attackers on the right, who accused him of playing the race card.


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commented 2014-06-29 09:19:42 -0400 · Flag
Tom writes:

I experienced the same effects while reading this, revulsion, anger, open disgust with how these twerps process information, what forms the basis for there common connection and Yes there overriding sense of aggrievement that is at the center of there every waking thought and policy decision making.
commented 2014-06-29 09:06:03 -0400 · Flag
B.P. writes:

It is irrefutably clear that the core group governing the USA are a bitterly racist, redistributionist, aggrieved lot who were carried on the shit-stained wings of Affirmative Action to elite Far-Left dominated universities and then proceeded through the usual sewer-pipelines of government and akademia up the power-structure to the Toilet Seat of Big Central Government, and now that they sit on the Big Toilet Seat their sense of entitlement and bitterness allows them to Lord it over all of us as they push their Far-Left, 3rd World agenda down our throats.

But what did the American people expect? Holder, Jarret, Jackson, Sharpton…their boy Baraka (not to mention their reptilian wives) are all far far Left Campus Radicals of the 60’s and 70’s. They “hung” with Rev. Wright, Farrakahn, Bill Ayres, Malcolm X, and now you have this entire rabble at the head of government. It is a nightmare. Just seeing Holder with Jackson and Sharpton demonstrates the guttural level of these “Race Hustlers” and their Dependence-agenda. These people don’t want to leave the plantation and destroy the chains…they simply want to run the plantation and enlarge it.

The U.S.A. is dying because they have allowed the most radical, Big-Government statists and race-hustlers into the inner realm of power…and the other minions are too weak or too corrupt to fight back. The Obama Mafia sees everything through the prism of race and Victimology and Liberation Theology…they have no clue what American Exceptionalism is…and they have remade the country in their own racial-retribution image…everybody’s got a beef with everybody else. Race Hustlers one and all. How could the American people be so profoundly stupid? The greatest country on earth run by a blinkered, racist, ruthlessly corrupt neo-collectivist cabal intent on radical utopianism and retribution for 400 years of oppression.
commented 2014-06-29 09:03:40 -0400 · Flag
Spartacus writes:

Holder & Obama aren’t (just) people, they are Blacks who see themselves as victims of their race (what country am I living in ?) this long article is worth your time, it offers Real insight into just how 3rd world that white house operation is, it is definitely Not “American” !