Eric Holder evolved from a widely-respected prosecutor into an increasingly partisan operative, who eventually felt free to trump justice with politics when his ideological soul mate tapped him as attorney general.
That’s the thesis of “Obama’s Enforcer,” a new book by former Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky, who is now with the Heritage Foundation. His co-author is longtime investigative reporter and columnist John Fund.
Attorney general is a political appointment and those nominated for the job usually share some if not many ideological similarities with the president who chooses them. However, von Spakovsky says there is a stark difference between past attorneys general and what we’ve seen from Eric Holder.
“Holder has put politics at the forefront, ahead of justice. You can look at prior attorneys general and you will find that they, very carefully, treaded the line between working for the president and trying to put his priorities in place but on the other hand, realizing they are the attorney general. The interests of justice and nonpartisan enforcement of the law takes a higher priority. Past attorneys general of both parties have done it very well,” said von Spakovsky.
“That is not the way Holder has run the Justice Department. He obviously considers himself part of the president’s political team first, attorney general a distant second. You can see that in the way that he’s conducted himself and the way they have politicized the prosecution process,” he said.
According to von Spakovsky, Holder approached the law much differently earlier in his career. A generation ago, officials in both parties applauded him as a tough-minded prosecutor and judge. Slowly, his actions began to reflect his deepening political philosophy.
“He went from being a very nonpartisan, professional lawyer to having politics and ideology driving him. A (40-year Justice Department) lawyer we talked to thinks some of that may have been influenced by the woman he married (Sharon Malone) because of the very bitter attitude she has towards the experiences of black Americans,” von Spakovsky.
The book alleges Holder’s increasing partisanship was already on display while he was deputy attorney general in the later years of the Clinton administration.
“He did things there like recommend pardons for sixteen terrorists in American jails. Why? They were Puerto Rican terrorists and the thought at the time was this might help Hillary Clinton with her Senate run in New York, so sacrificing national security for political advantage,” said von Spakovsky.
Last decade, Holder shed his Clinton loyalties in favor of Barack Obama, following Obama’s meteoric rise during and after his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign. By 2008, Holder was not only solidly on board for Obama early in the race against Sen. Clinton, but was a chief fundraiser and surrogate for his candidate as well. The reason, according to von Spakovsky, was an instantaneous ideological symmetry. He says that can be seen today as both men have little regard for enforcing laws with which they disagree.
“This attorney general believes he can refuse to defend any law that he doesn’t like and that’s the way he has approached his office. That is extremely dangerous. It violates separation of powers. It can tear apart the kind of constitutional structure we have,” said von Spakovsky, citing Holder’s refusal to enforce immigration law, mandatory drug sentences and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Worse yet, say the authors, is that Holder is encouraging like-minded state attorneys general to follow his lead and not enforce statutes that run contrary to their political beliefs, particularly in the state-by-state debates over the definition of marriage.
Another development von Spakovsky and Fund find very troubling is the politicizing of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) which they claim is critical to maintaining judicial impartiality in the U.S.
“The Office of Legal Counsel is a very special office within the Justice Department. Its job has always been to provide legal opinions to the president, and particularly on the constitutionality of proposed legislation and actions the president wants to take. It has the highest, most sterling reputation of any office or division within the Justice Department. They’ve always been known as an office that will provide an objective opinion. They don’t care who’s in the White House or what opinion the White House would actually like to have,” said von Spakovsky.
He says that’s all changed under Holder’s time in office.
“For the first time in it’s history, Eric Holder has changed that. He has installed someone who will give him the legal opinions he wants despite them not being correct,” said von Spakovsky.
The clearest example of this, according to the authors, is President Obama’s attempt to make recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even though the U.S. Senate was not technically in recess.
“We spoke to veterans of that office who said that opinion was an embarrassment. It was very clear they had written the conclusion they wanted and then tried to make up the law to fit it. Some of the arguments they made were described as laughable by a former OLC lawyer who had worked for several different administrations,” said von Spakovsky.
In addition to refusing to enforce laws contrary to his beliefs, Holder is also accused by Fund and von Spakovsky of harassing citizens and businesses with crippling fines and court costs for the smallest and most questionable violation of federal law and regulations. They also say Holder and his allies in the Justice Department have made a habit of getting sued by their own friends to change laws without congressional approval.
“The administration and the Justice Department have been engaging in what we call collusive settlements. These are what we call ‘sue and settle’ cases, where the department will go and solicit one of their allies, a political advocacy organization and say, ‘Why don’t you guys sue us, claiming that we haven’t, for example, issued a particular type of environmental regulation that we all want but don’t have the legal authority to issue. As soon as you file the lawsuit, we will not fight it. We’ll immediately surrender and agree to settle. The settlement agreement, which we can get rubber-stamped by a federal judge, will let us do whatever we want,'” said von Spakovsky.
“Those kinds of cases have skyrocketed under the Holder Justice Department and under this administration. That’s a pretty clear indication of the kind of abuse that the department is engaging in,” he said.