Commentary Magazine


Is Holder on the Way Out?

President Obama has shown a remarkable ability to tune out the media as well as public opinion when it suits him. That should stand Attorney General Eric Holder in good stead as he weathers the backlash that he is facing in the wake of the revelations of Department of Justice’s shocking attacks on the freedom of the press. Holder is an Obama loyalist and probably the most experienced Washington hand in the administration and the one figure many observers thought most likely to last from the beginning to the end of the Obama presidency. Yet the latest statements coming from Holder about the investigations into Fox News reporter James Rosen and the Associated Press that he authorized show how weak his position has become. Throw in the growing realization even on the left that Holder must go, and you get the sense that even a president who is reluctant to make his allies walk the plank—even if that would help his political standing—is starting to consider asking the attorney general to disappear.

Holder’s claim in an interview in the Daily Beast that he didn’t understand the ramifications of his decisions until he read about them in the Washington Post lacks credibility. So, too, do his sappy expressions of “regret” about the way his department—with his direct approval—has infringed on the rights of the press. But given all we know about what went into the effort to find a judge to sign off on these probes, as our John Podhoretz wrote this morning in the New York Post, “the whole story smells to high heaven.” But the willingness of prominent Obama supporters to view this mess with the same sort of disdain may mean a tipping point has been reached. Liberal legal analyst Jonathan Turley’s column in USA Today notes that this isn’t the first time Holder has tried to deny responsibility for scandals such as the Fast and Furious debacle. But the lies Holder told when he testified at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee about the seizure of the AP’s phone records as well as the subsequent fibbing about this issue make it necessary that the president fire the attorney general as soon as possible.

Turley thinks Holder has served as Obama’s principal “sin eater”—a high-ranking official who shields the president from responsibility for his action—throughout his presidency. But his claims that he knew nothing about the investigations that he had, in fact, personally authorized, lays him open to charges of perjury. As Turley writes, Holder is “the best witness against his continuing in office.”

His insistence that he did nothing was a telling moment. The attorney general has done little in his tenure to protect civil liberties or the free press. Rather, Holder has supervised a comprehensive erosion of privacy rights, press freedom and due process. This ignoble legacy was made possible by Democrats who would look at their shoes whenever the Obama administration was accused of constitutional abuses.

He’s right about that. It’s past time for Democrats to start stepping up and show that their statements about defending the First Amendment rights of the press are more than empty rhetoric.

The president may have thought he could get away by ordering a probe of what happened in the AP and Fox cases by none other than the attorney general, but that isn’t going to work. Holder’s misleading testimony to Congress about the unprecedented attack on the press is the sort of thing that could make it impossible for the bleeding on this story to stop without a change at the Department of Justice. As much as the president may want to pretend that this is a partisan attack on his friend, that’s a line of argument that is rapidly becoming unsustainable. Unless Obama is willing to get rid of Holder, he will no longer be able to keep distancing the White House from this scandal. While the president may be slow to come to this realization, the end of Holder’s disastrous tenure may be in sight.