For the record, I have not sat down with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for an interview as I have done with the man who appointed him, President Barack Obama.
I have only read about his dogged pursuit to address civil and human rights issues among other matters affecting the nation, as well as his background going back to his days at Columbia University.
I was part of the University of Michigan Law School Commencement audience earlier this year where Holder addressed one of the nation’s leading law schools, highlighting issues such as the protection of voting rights, matters that will help to define his legacy at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
But I met one of Holder’s top lieutenants, Thomas Perez, the impressive assistant attorney general for civil rights who was in town for a forum on civil rights in a multicultural society that I moderated at the invitation of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade. At the forum McQuade hosted, I found Perez to be not only a highly accomplished lawyer, but one whose energy is centered on desire to protect the rights of everyone.
In his answering of the questions and dialogue with the audience, it was clear Perez was not a bureaucrat and does not cherish the trappings of officialdom, rather, the business of creating a nexus between the Department of Justice and all communities it is sworn to serve. One thing I remember vividly in my dialogue with Perez was how the Department of Justice’s morale is now at its highest point because of Holder and President Obama.
That is certainly a different swing of the pendulum from the days of Attorney Generals Alberta Gonzalez and John Ashcroft under the George W. Bush presidency, both of whom had their tenures marked by explosive scandals that included purging of U.S. attorneys across the country.
In short, the Bush presidency’s drive to make professionally trained men and women who serve at the Department of Justice look at their work not through the lens of the Constitution, but through political expediency, is now a story of the past. And according to Perez, it is indeed a different day and DOJ officials enjoy what they are doing and that is reflected in the morale.
Thus it is painfully fascinating to watch history unfold as the nation’s first Black attorney general, Eric Holder, goes through a manufactured meat grinding political crisis, where certain members of Congress in the Republican Party are bent on not only disgracing him publicly, but also to basically pass a vote of no confidence on his leadership at the Department of Justice.
Republican Chairman Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, appears to be on a political witch hunt against Holder in his investigation of Fast and Furious, a botched gun smuggling operation program.
Issa is pushing for a Congressional vote of contempt against Holder for reportedly not turning all documents on the Fast and Furious operation. And the White House invoked executive privilege last week against the release of some of the documents which led House Speaker John Boehner to claim White House involvement. And yet Issa said on Sunday there is no evidence whatsoever that the White House is involved.
I’m not opposed to any investigation into Fast and Furious because the family of the agent who was killed certainly would like answers from the government.
But the rate at which Chairman Issa and his colleagues are digging into this case suggests that it is more than just Fast and Furious. It suggests that this so-called investigation is not about bringing closure to the family of the agent.
Rather, it is more so about undermining the authority of the nation’s attorney general and his moral power as the top law enforcement authority in the world’s superpower.
I watched some of the hearings and observed the questioning and how Chairman Issa on numerous times took issue with Holder’s way of answering the question, in some instances suggesting he is not a good witness. I almost concluded that Issa must be obsessed with Holder’s authority. Is Issa going after Holder because the nation’s first Black attorney general has been suing states that are in violation of voting rights protections?
To blow things out of proportion and make Holder look like he is the worst attorney general is a longtime political skill employed in the service of those who are not students of history and have no memory. But because we are students of history, we cannot forget the days of the Bush presidency and the conduct of his two men who served at the helm of the DOJ.
No one in Congress held Gonzalez and Ashcroft in contempt despite the fact that evidence later showed how their tenures at the DOJ brought morale down. The scandals that emanated did not warrant a Congressional contempt of either men despite the enormity of the scandals. Why then must the first Black attorney general be subjected to this level of scrutiny and public humiliation, designed to make both Holder and President Obama fail.
Being the attorney general makes Holder instantly a powerful figure. And while some may not like that idea and detest such in a multicultural age, they should give him the respect of the Office of the Attorney General. Until such time that Holder decides to exit the grand stage, he should be accorded the respect that has been given to every other attorney general before him. Holder deserves the same courtesy that was given to Gonzalez and Ashcroft despite the scandals that took place under their watch.
You don’t summon the nation’s attorney general for a Congressional hearing and then treat him like a lamb drawn for the slaughter, all in a bid to score political points under the pretext of getting to the truth, when you never applied that same zest, energy and interest to his predecessors.
Holder has proven to be straighforward and courageous, not one to submit to political expediency. When he came out during a Black History Month program and said we are a “nation of cowards” because we don’t talk about race, he drew the ire of many on the extreme right who instantly then saw him as a target.
Because his language on race is not typical of the styles of previous attorney generals, showing the diversity of experiences the Obama era has brought to bear at the Department of Justice and other places, Holder is seen differently despite his outstanding credentials.
But when he spoke about the need to discuss race more, it had a force of authority because for the first time we are hearing the attorney general discussing an issue that’s too often swept under the rug, yet has a debilitating impact on voting rights and police issues in communities of color, etc.
When Holder’s legacy is written, it will be one that shows courage, determination, intelligence and a tenacity to address age-old problems that we’ve been massaging all along, a legacy to get us closer to a more perfect union. It will not be the legacy that Chairman Issa is trying to write.
Bankole Thompson is the senior editor of the Michigan Chronicle. He is a senior author-in-residence at Global Mark Makers Publishing House in Iowa where he is writing a six-part book series on the Obama presidency. His book “Obama and Black Loyalty” published in 2010, follows his recent book, ”Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a forward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His forthcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and “Obama and Business Loyalty.” He is the first editor of an African-Americn newspaper to have a series of sit-down interviews with Barack Obama. Thompson is also a senior political news analyst at WDET-101.9 FM Detroit (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190 AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut.
You don’t summon the nation’s attorney general for a Congressional hearing and then treat him like a lamb drawn for the slaughter, all in a bid to score political points under the pretext of getting to the truth, when you never applied that same zest, energy and interest
to his predecessors.