Eric Holder

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Eric Himpton Holder, Jr. (born January 21, 1951) is an American lawyer and the current United States Attorney General. He is the first African-American to hold this position. Previously he has been a judge in Washington, D.C., United States Attorney, and Deputy Attorney General, appointed by both Republicans and Democrats. He is serving under President Barack Obama.

Early Life and Education

Eric Holder was born in the Bronx in New York City. His father was born in Barbados and emigrated to the United States at age 11. His mother was born in New Jersey to a family of immigrants from Barbados. He grew up in Queens, New York and attended Columbia University. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in American history in 1973. He enrolled in the Columbia Law School and earned his J.D. in 1976.[1]

Early career

Upon graduation in 1976, Holder started work for the U.S. Justice Department and remained there until 1988. He was involved in the prosecution of various high-profile public officials of both parties for bribery and fraud, including former Governor Arch A. Moore, Jr. of West Virginia and former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan appointed him as judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He served in this capacity until 1993, when President Bill Clinton appointed him as U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia.[2]

Deputy Attorney General

Private Practice

After his time in the Clinton administration, Holder joined the law firm of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C.

Attorney General

See also: United States Attorney General

Appointment and confirmation

On December 1, 2008, President Barack Obama announced that he would appoint Holder as Attorney General. In light of persistent accusations of a politicized Justice Department under George W. Bush and his former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, reforms of the Justice Department were considered a high priority by the incoming Democratic administration.

The nomination of the first African-American Attorney General created some enthusiasm, but Holder's appointment was considered controversial by some Republicans. Before his confirmation, they questioned his behavior as Bill Clinton's Deputy Attorney General in pushing for the pardoning of Marc Rich, a fugitive from justice on the FBI's most wanted list, and the commutation of sentences for several Puerto Rican terrorists.[3] He was confirmed by a 75-21 vote in the Senate on February 2, 2009.

Soon after taking office, he ordered a review of pending state secrets privilege applications by Federal prosecutors, although asked that it be applied in a case pending when he took office, Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc.. He indicated that the new administration might or might not adopt different policies, but there was a clear difference between Obama's campaign statements about maximal avoidance of state secrets, and Holder's recognition that haste can be dangerous in national security matters.

Key decisions

He has made a number of controversial decisions. At least some of the criticism appears to be partisan, while others deal with matters of law.

Dismissal of Ted Stevens prosecution

Early in his tenure Holder decided to dismiss the prosecution of Republican Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska who had been convicted in fall of 2008 on several felony charges of lying on senate disclosure forms. Shortly after Holder had taken office, a U.S. District Judge had held two prosecutors in the case in contempt of court for suppressing evidence favorable to the defense. More exculpatory evidence was discovered after Holder replaced the trial team. Holder then moved for a dismissal of the case, which effectively vacated Stevens' conviction.[4]

Dismissal of New Black Panther prosecution

Holder's Justice Dept. came under fire in June 2009 when it became known that the Justice Department had dismissed charges of voter intimidation against all but one of the members of the black supremacist New Black Panther organization arrested on November 4, 2008 at a Philadelphia voting station. House Republicans, including Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) asked the Attorney General to explain the reasoning behind the dismissals in view of a video tape of the events on election day that had heightened public awareness of the case. Justice Department officials stressed that the decision was based in law and made by career officials, not by political appointees.[5]

Questions about the matter by Representatives triggered an investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). The independent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) has started its own investigation and has issued subpoenas to depose Justice Department officials and for the release of documents related to the case. Holder and the Justice Department have thus far refused to cooperate with the USCCR until the OPR investigation is complete.[6] On July 6, 2010 the USCCR held a hearing in the case at which J. Christian Adams, a former lawyer at the Justice Department who had resigned in protest at the handling of the case by the Justice Department, testified regarding the circumstances of the dismissal of the charges.[7]

However, legal analysts from both sides of the political spectrum have commented that the USCCR investigation is unlikely to find unlawful or unethical conduct in the Justice Department. Abigail Thernstrom, vice-chair of the USCCR and adjunct scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote in an article for National Review that cases of voter intimidation are very hard to prosecute because the standards of evidence that must be met are very high. She concluded: "So far — after months of hearings, testimony and investigation — no one has produced actual evidence that any voters were too scared to cast their ballots. Too much overheated rhetoric filled with insinuations and unsubstantiated charges has been devoted to this case."[8]

Decision on 9-11 trial

Holder has taken responsibility for the decisions to try the five key defendants for the 9-11 Attack in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, rather than by a military commission, as U.S. v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al.‎. In his announcement on 13 November 2009, he also said that certain other defendants would still go before military commissions. [9]

Investigation of CIA illegalities

See also: Intelligence interrogation, U.S., review#Justice_Department

On August 24, 2009, Holder announced that he would renew the appointment of John H. Durham as acting U.S. attorney investigating possible illegal acts by the CIA, including destruction of evidence and improper interrogation. Durham had originally been appointed by Holder’s predecessor, Michael Mukasey, in January 2008. [10][11]

Holder commented that he was aware of the controversy that would be created by this move but he concluded that, in view of new evidence that had come to light, “it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take." In taking this step Holder deviated from President Obama’s view that no criminal investigations of his predecessor's policies should be undertaken, but the president ultimately supported the decision, underscoring the independence of the Justice Department in such matters.[12]

Republican senators Jon Kyl, Christopher Bond and Jeff Sessions called Holder’s decision a partisan do-over for political reasons, since a 2004 CIA report on the matter had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove unlawful acts.[13] However, this criticism ignores the fact that the investigation was reopened by Mukasey in 2008, before President Obama took office. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Director of Central Intelligence Michael Hayden have criticized the way in which the investigation is being handled but they have also disputed that senior Congressional leaders were unaware of the interrogation methods.[14]

References

  1. Andrew Longstreth (June 5, 2008). Making History with Obama, Law.com. Retrieved August 12, 2009.
  2. Neil A. Lewis (June 2, 1994). Indictment of a Congressman, New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2009.
  3. Liz Halloran (January 14, 2009). Battle Brewing Over Holder's Clinton-Era Decisions, National Public Radio (NPR). Retrieved August 12, 2009.
  4. Kevin Johnson and Matt Kelley (April 1, 2009). Holder urges Ted Stevens' conviction reversed, USA TODAY. Retrieved August 14, 2009.
  5. Molly K. Hooper. GOP, Holder battle over New Black Panthers, The Hill, July 12, 2009. Retrieved on January 2, 2010.
  6. Jennifer Rubin. Holding Holder Accountable, Weekly Standard, 2009-12-07, pp. 10-12. Retrieved on 2010-01-05.
  7. Eric Shawn (July 6, 2010), Former Justice Attorney Set to Testify in New Black Panther Case, FOX News. Retrieved on July 6, 2010
  8. Abigail Thernstrom (July 6, 2010), The New Black Panther Case: A Conservative Dissent, National Review Online. Retrieved on July 6, 2010
  9. Charlie Savage (14 November 2009), "Accused 9/11 Mastermind to Face Civilian Trial in N.Y.", New York Times
  10. Dan Eggen and Joby Warrick (January 3, 2008), "Criminal Probe on CIA Tapes Opened: Case Assigned to Career Prosecutor", Washington Post. Retrieved on September 17, 2009
  11. "Mukasey: Criminal inquiry begins into CIA tapes; CIA said last month it had destroyed recordings of harsh interrogations", Associated Press, January 2, 2008. Retrieved on September 17, 2009
  12. Carrie Johnson (August 25, 2009), "Prosecutor to Probe CIA Interrogations", Washington Post. Retrieved on September 17, 2009
  13. Greg Miller (August 20, 2009), "GOP senators warn Holder against CIA abuse inquiry", Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on September 17, 2009
  14. Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasey (April 17, 2009), "The President Ties His Own Hands on Terror: The point of interrogation is intelligence, not confession", Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on September 17, 2009