Eric Holder ran the most politicized Justice Department in U.S. history, did enormous damage to the rule of law that will be nearly impossible to reverse and actively worked to make voter fraud easier, according to a former DOJ official who recently authored a book on Holder’s years as attorney general.
Hans von Spakovsky served as counsel for the assistant attorney general for civil rights during the George W. Bush administration and later served two years as a member of the Federal Elections Commission. He is now manager of the Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative and co-author of “Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department.”
On Thursday, Holder announced he was stepping down after nearly six years on the job but will stay until the Senate confirms his replacement. While Holder and President Obama characterized his tenure as attorney general as a time of making sure equal rights were afforded to all Americans, von Spakovsky says Holder’s true legacy is clear and troubling.
“He has politicized the department to a degree never seen before. I think he has done a lot of damage, not just to the Justice Department but to the impartial and objective administration of justice, which is what the Justice Department is supposed to do and hasn’t been doing for the last six years,” said von Spakovsky.
In “Obama’s Enforcer,” von Spakovsky highlights a multitude of issues he sees as proof of this politicizing. Holder controversies include allegations of refusing to enforce laws with which he disagrees, failing to aggressively investigate allegations of IRS abuse of conservative groups, coddling radical Muslim organizations and harassing reporters from Fox News Channel and the Associated Press.
There are two other flash points that von Spakovsky sees as especially troubling. When asked which actions of Holder did the most damage to the nation, he reflexively mentioned a gun-smuggling sting gone bad that led to the murders of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of Mexicans and Holder being held in contempt of Congress by the House of Representatives.
“I think when people die, you have to say that is the greatest damage. That takes us back to Operation Fast and Furious. An American border agent died directly as a result of a reckless operation that allowed guns to get into the hands of Mexican drug dealers. Eric Holder’s directly responsible for that and that’s why he was held in contempt by the House, the first and only attorney general in history to have that happen,” said von Spakovsky.
“I think it will be a stain on his legacy. I don’t care who you are. You cannot explain away the death of an American and, frankly, what may be hundreds of Mexican citizens that are a direct result of a law enforcement operation conducted under Holder’s supervision,” he said.
In addition to refusing to enforce laws on the books, including the Defense of Marriage Act, Holder also actively sought to block states from implementing laws designed to prevent voter fraud, such as requiring voters to present photo identification.
Holder explained his position as one looking out for the poor and disenfranchised from measures that threaten to take Southern states and others back to the days of blatant discrimination against minorities and others. von Spakovsky doesn’t believe that.
“He has waged a war, literally a war, on election integrity and tried to stop voter ID laws. He keeps losing, but he has made it extremely costly for states to try to put in basic, common sense measures like voter ID. It seems like he really wants to promote and make sure that voter fraud is easy to commit, which is a terrible legacy for an attorney general,” he said.
Voting and civil rights presented the very first controversy of Holder’s tenure, when his dropped voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party, even after the group pleaded no contest to the charges. His actions on racial issues also marked one of the final controversies of his tenure, as he weighed in on the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
“It bookends, starting with the New Black Panthers. And how do we end? We end with him going in and saying, before an investigation has even been done, that race was at the root of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. That shows how he views everything through a racial prism,” said von Spakovsky.
An even bigger problem for von Spakovsky is that the work by Holder is not easily reversed.
“It’s lasting damage and extremely difficult to change it back,” he said, pouring cold water on the notion that a conservative attorney general could make things right again.
“They have basically bent and broken civil service laws and put radical left-wing lawyers and political cronies and Democratic donors into civil service positions. As a result of that, these people will be there in the next administration, even if it’s a Republican administration. They will continue to push the same kind of procedures and policies that Holder put them in there for in the first place,” said von Spakovsky.
How much of a return can Americans ever expect to a Justice Department that is faithful to impartial enforcement of the laws?
“The most good we can expect from a future attorney general is one who comes back in and says, ‘We are going to fairly administer justice and we’re going to do it on a non-political, non-ideological basis.’ Frankly, anyone in the department with any interest in doing it differently should resign. If they try to engage in that kind of behavior, they’ll be terminated,” said von Spakovsky.
Possible replacements for Holder are rumored to range from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is a former DOJ official, to current Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. Whoever it is, von Spakovsky doesn’t expect Obama to pick someone much different from Holder.
“I suspect the president’s going to want someone who continues the same kind of behavior as Eric Holder and one who will keep the lid on the way Holder has: for example, refusing to turn over documents in Operation Fast and Furious, refusing to conduct a real criminal investigation of the IRS. That’s exactly the kind of person I expect the president to nominate,” he said.
von Spakovsky says the Senate schedule will not allow for confirmation hearings before the midterm elections. If Republicans win the majority, he expects Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to try to confirm the president’s choice in a lame duck session at the end of the year.
“So if [Holder] doesn’t resign now and they don’t get somebody confirmed in December, Holder would probably be set to stay there through the end of the president’s term,” he said.