Race creeps into debate over stalled nomination for attorney general

Attorney-general nominee Loretta Lynch’s confirmation hearing took place in January. The full Senate has yet to vote on the nomination. (Andrew Harnik/For The Washington Post)

The Washigton Post

“A woman who everybody agrees is qualified, who has gone after terrorists, who has worked with police officers to get gangs off the streets, who is trusted by the civil rights community and by police unions as being somebody who’s fair and effective, and a good manager . . . who’s been confirmed twice before by the United States Senate for one of the biggest law-enforcement jobs in the country, has been now sitting there longer than the previous seven attorney general nominees combined,” Obama said.

“What are we doing here?” Obama continued. “There are times when the dysfunction in the Senate just goes too far . . . Enough. Enough. Call Loretta Lynch for a vote. Get her confirmed. Put her in place. Let her do her job. This is embarrassing, a process like that.”

In November, Obama nominated Lynch, the daughter of a fourth-generation Baptist minister from North Carolina, to replace Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who had announced two months earlier that he was stepping down as soon as the Senate approved a new nominee. On Feb. 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm Lynch by a vote of 12 to 8.

But then the nomination went nowhere.

Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) voted with the nine Democrats on the committee to approve the nomination. Since then, Lynch has picked up the support of two more Senate Republicans, which, along with the Democrats, would give her 51 votes, enough to be confirmed.

The full Senate was expected to vote on Lynch’s nomination a week or two after the committee did so. Instead, it became tangled in a controversy over the abortion provisions in a human-trafficking bill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate would not take any action on Lynch until the dispute over the trafficking bill was resolved.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) took to the Senate floor and compared the nominee to Parks.

“Loretta Lynch, the first African American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar,” Durbin said. “That is unfair. It’s unjust.”

The comparison did not sit well with Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who lashed out at Durbin.

“It is beneath the dignity and decorum of the United State Senate . . . for him to come to this floor and use that imagery and suggest that racist tactics are being employed to delay Ms. Lynch’s confirmation vote,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “It was offensive and unnecessary, and I think he owes this body, Ms. Lynch and all Americans an apology.”

Holder, for his part, joked that Republicans, who had clashed with him repeatedly over the last six years, had “discovered a new fondness for me” because the longer the delay, the longer he remains attorney general. But Holder said the issue was more about politics than race.

“My guess is that there is probably not a huge racial component to this, that this is really just D.C. politics, Washington at its worst,” Holder told MSNBC. “A battle about something that is not connected to this nominee — holding up this nominee.”

Finger-pointing intensified this week with White House press secretary Josh Earnest calling the delay “unconscionable.” Earnest also criticized Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) for an “astounding degree of duplicity” for suggesting that Democrats and the president contributed to the delay by not urging Lynch’s confirmation when Democrats controlled the Senate last fall.

Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine shot back: “If nothing else, the White House certainly is good at rewriting history. The fact of the matter is that when Eric Holder announced his intention to step down in September, Senate Democrats had a 55 seat majority . . . It was abundantly clear then — just as it is now — that Senate Democrats’ priorities didn’t include the Lynch nomination.”

There are indications that the deadlock might be easing. McConnell canceled a morning vote Friday to break the Democratic filibuster of the anti-trafficking bill, citing new negotiations that could resolve the conflict, and a Republican leadership aide said the two sides are “closer to a deal than we have been in the past.” If an agreement is reached, the Senate could move quickly on the trafficking bill and take up the Lynch nomination next week.

But until that deal comes, hundreds of civil rights activists, mostly women, will continue to fast, according to Janaye Ingram, the executive director of the National Action Network. The network, along with a coalition of other civil rights groups, sent a letter on Friday to McConnell calling for an immediate vote on Lynch.

“People are willing to go without food in order to have a vote,” she said.

Julie Tate and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

This Is What Eric Holder’s Legacy Will Be

The Huffington Post

Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold the top law enforcement position in the United States, announced on Thursday that he plans to step down from his position as soon as a successor can be confirmed. If he remains in office until December, Holder will become the third longest-serving Attorney General in the history of the United States. Here are some key components of his legacy.

He decided not to defend DOMA

The Obama administration initially defended the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages. At first, Holder maintained that while the administration disagreed with the law, it was the Justice Department’sresponsibility to defend the laws that Congress had passed. (Some of the briefs written by Justice Department lawyers arguing that DOMA was constitutional were considered offensive by gay rights organizations.)

But Holder’s analysis changed. He announced in February 2011 that the Justice Department would no longer defend components of the statute because DOMA “contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships — precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution’s) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed, ruling in June 2013 that key portions of DOMA were unconstitutional.

He lost the fight to bring the Sept. 11 trial out of Guantanamo Bay and into New York City

In one of the biggest disappointments of his tenure, Holder ultimately lost the fight to try the key perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks in federal court in New York City. The plan, first announced by Holder in Nov. 2009, faced stiff resistance from many politicians in New York who feared the impact a high-profile trial would have on the city. Others objected because they believed that a military commission was a more appropriate venue for the terrorism trial. Holder ultimately announced he was reversing his decision to try the cases in New York and moved them back to the military commission in Guantanamo.

While the process in Guantanamo has hit numerous roadblocks, Holder’s Justice Department has gathered a string of wins against other terror suspects in federal court. Holder has remarked that the Sept. 11 defendants “would be on death row as we speak” if the case had been allowed to proceed in federal court.

He helped turn around the Civil Rights Division and fought for voting rights

The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department was heavily politicized during the Bush administration. A 2008 inspector general report found the conservative leadership had hired lawyers with little to no civil rights experience into positions due to their ideological beliefs. The environment caused a massive exodus in the Civil Rights Division: more than 70 percent of its attorneys left between 2003 and 2007. Holder, who has long made civil rights a top priority, was widely credited with overseeing the turnaround of the division.

“I think Eric Holder put the ‘J’ back in DOJ, and in particular he restored the luster of the crown jewel which is the Civil Rights Division, and I had the privilege of having a front-row seat for that,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who headed the Civil Rights Division from 2009 to 2013, told The Huffington Post after Holder’s announcement on Thursday.

Holder oversaw several of the Justice Department’s successful voting rights lawsuits during President Barack Obama’s first term, as well as the agency’s continued efforts after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. DOJ is currently involved in several voting rights cases, including high-profile suits against voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas.

He addressed racism head on.

Shortly after his confirmation in 2009, Holder delivered a speech to Justice Department employees at an event commemorating Black History Month. In his remarks, he called out the U.S. as a “nation of cowards” when it comes to addressing race. He said Americans believe that “certain subjects are off-limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

Those words echoed throughout Holder’s tenure at the DOJ as he fought back against laws that suppressed voting and defended the Voting Rights Act. He stepped in to request federal oversight of the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-friskpolicy, a program that has overwhelmingly targeted black and Latino individuals. More recently, he ordered a civil rights investigation into the largely white police force in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson.

“Will we yet again turn a blind eye to the hard truths that Ferguson exposed?” Holder asked during a speech this week, echoing his 2009 remarks. “Or will we finally accept this mandate for open and honest dialogue?”

He oversaw a crackdown on leaks and disappointed civil liberties advocates

Under Holder, the Justice Department has aggressively — some would say obsessively — pursued government leakers. Eight have been charged with violating the draconian Espionage Act of 1917, more than under all previous administrations combined. Journalists have also come under the gun: Holder’s DOJ subpoenaed AP reporters’ phone logs in a leak investigation, named a Fox News reporter as an “un-indicted co-conspirator” in another case, and is still trying to force Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen to testify about his sources under threat of jail time.

All of that led Risen to call Holder’s boss, Obama, “the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”

One of the leakers charged, Edward Snowden, revealed another disappointment for civil liberties advocates: the DOJ’s intimate role in coming up with the legal rationale that underlies the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

The FBI’s frayed relationship with Muslim communities, meanwhile, has seen little improvement under Holder. The bureau has continued to use sting operations, which critics say are tantamount to entrapment, to arrest Muslims involved in bogus terror “plots.” And NPR reported on Wednesday that the racial profiling guidelines set to be released soon will still allow the FBI to “map” the demographics of Muslim communities.

Perhaps most worrying for many across the spectrum, it was Holder’s DOJ that came up with the “drone memos” — the legal justification that the Obama administration leaned on to kill al Qaeda propagandist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen without a trial.

He released the so-called “torture memos,” but didn’t go after their authors — Shadee

Two months after assuming office in 2009, Holder moved to publicly release a series of previously classified “torture memos” from the Bush administration that sanctioned specific acts of torture, including waterboarding, for CIA use against al Qaeda suspects.

“There is no reason we cannot wage an effective fight against those who have sworn to harm us while we respect our most honored constitutional traditions,” Holder said in March 2009 after releasing nine previously classified Justice Department memos.

Despite the release, which faced significant pushback from senior intelligence officials, the attorney general’s office never brought criminal charges against any government officials investigated for their involvements in over 100 cases of severe prisoner abuse.

While crediting Holder in other areas, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero issued a statement on Thursday noting “profound disagreements with the Attorney General on national security issues.”

“During his tenure, DOJ approved the drone killing of an American far away from any battlefield, approved the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, failed to prosecute any of the Bush administration torturers, and presided over more leak prosecutions than all previous Justice Departments combined,” Romero said.

He became the first-ever cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress

In 2012, Holder became the only sitting cabinet member in history to be held in contempt of Congress after the White House claimed executive privilege over documents subpoenaed in relation to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched federal investigation intended to combat gun smuggling. The documents that the Justice Department refused to turn over related not to the actual operation, but rather to how DOJ responded once Congress began investigating the matter.

Holder later dismissed the vote — led by the Republican-controlled House — as political theater, calling it “a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people.”

The White House also indicated in 2012 that Holder would not face any criminal charges in the matter since the documents being sought were protected by executive privilege.

He took on “draconian” drug sentences and slowly but surely scaled back the war on drugs.

In what Obama described as a “gutsy speech” in front of the American Bar Association in 2013, Holder outlined his plan for “sweeping, systemic changes” to how the Justice Department prosecutes drug-related offenses. While Holder initially faced a lot of internal resistance from career federal prosecutors as he attempted to rein in the so-called war on drugs, he pressed ahead, pushing for changes like allowing low-level and nonviolent drug offenders to avoid “draconian” mandatory minimum sentences and permitting the early release of some elderly defendants.

He continued to push for sentencing reform in March, lending his support to aproposal that would reduce penalties for some drug offenders and help cut prison costs.

“This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable, it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate,” he said.

Holder has also urged first responders to carry the heroin overdose antidote naloxone.

He oversaw a crackdown on marijuana shops, but allowed state legalization to move forward

During the first term of the Obama administration, Holder oversaw an expansive federal crackdown on hundreds of state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries in states like Colorado and California, which was spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Agency and several U.S. attorneys.

But in a historic step, Holder announced in 2013 that DOJ would allow for Colorado and Washington to implement their groundbreaking new laws legalizing and regulating the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana.

While Holder never explicitly came out in favor of legalization or decriminalization, he has been more open to rescheduling marijuana, which is still classified by the federal government as a Schedule I substance like heroin. Holder said the Obama administration would be “more than glad” to work with Congress to re-examine how cannabis is scheduled federally. He even said in April that he’s “cautiously optimistic”about how the historic changes in marijuana law were working out in Washington and Colorado.

And now, as he plans to step down from his post, he appears to be more open than ever to the possibility of classifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug. He said in an interview just this week that “we need to ask ourselves, whether or not marijuana is as serious of a drug as heroin” adding that science should be used to make that determination.

He reached big settlements on pollution cases

The DOJ reached a record $4 billion settlement with BP in November 2012 over criminal charges stemming from the 2010 oil spill, which dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That included charges related to the deaths of 11 workers on the rig and the “misconduct or neglect of ships’ officers.” The DOJ is still pursuing civil charges related to the spill, but the agency recently scored a big win when a federal judge ruled that BP was grossly negligent in allowing the spill to occur — a ruling that opens the door to up to $18 billion in civil penalties that could be levied against the company.

The DOJ topped its own record fine this year, however, with a $5.15 billion settlementin April 2014 with Anadarko Petroleum over a decades-long legacy of pollution left by one of its subsidiaries.

He failed to hold Wall Street accountable for the financial crisis

Holder’s legacy is likely to be marred by what critics view as DOJ’s lax approach to investigating and prosecuting the alleged crimes that sparked, or exacerbated, the 2007-09 financial crisis.

Few Wall Street firms, and even fewer senior financial executives, were officially charged with breaking the law for conduct related to the crisis, despite what experts contend is a wealth of evidence — thanks to civil lawsuits brought by aggrieved investors, prior investigations by state authorities, and probes by Congress and the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission — that at the very least should have prompted the Justice Department to investigate further.

Holder’s approach to crisis-era wrongdoing stands in stark contrast to the playbook followed by federal prosecutors contending with the fallout of the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s and early 90s.

“In striking contrast with these past prosecutions, not a single high-level executive has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears likely that none will be,” Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan wrote earlier this year in the New York Review of Books.

The lack of public evidence that Holder’s Justice Department thoroughly investigated crisis-era wrongdoing has contributed to the perception — one eagerly promoted by the defense bar — that perhaps few crimes were even committed in the runup to the financial crisis.

“But if, by contrast, the Great Recession was in material part the product of intentional fraud,” Rakoff wrote, “the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years.”

Attorney General Eric Holder to step down

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a Sept. 4 news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

This is sad news for many people who thought AG Holder was a fine Attorney General…

The Washington Post

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., an original member of President Obama’s Cabinet, plans to leave the post as soon as a successor is confirmed.

President Obama will make an announcement about Holder later Thursday, according to White House officials.

“After serving for nearly six years as the head of the Justice Department, Holder is the first African American to be Attorney General of the United States and will be the fourth longest person to hold the position,” said a White House official, who asked not to be identified because the announcement had not been made yet.

“Holder’s accomplishments have established a historic legacy of civil rights enforcement and restoring fairness to the criminal justice system. Holder revitalized the Department’s praised Civil Rights Division, protected the rights of the LGBT community, successfully prosecuted terrorists, and fought tirelessly for voting rights, to name a few. He will remain at the Department of Justice until his post is filled.”

When Holder would leave office has been one of Washington’s great guessing games. He has had a combative relationship with congressional Republicans.

NPR first reported the news of Holder’s departure late Thursday morning.

Here Are the Police Practices the Justice Department Wants to Investigate in Ferguson

Attorney General Eric Holder is launching an investigation into the conduct and practices of the Ferguson, Mo., police department. | EPA

National Journal

The probe will examine the local police department’s use of deadly force and protocols for stops, searches, and arrests.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the Justice Department will open a civil-rights investigation of the Ferguson Police Department following weeks of protest in response to the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old.

The Justice Department will probe documented allegations of police misconduct, as well as an alleged history of racial discrimination, to determine whether Ferguson officers have violated federal civil-rights laws.

Holder met with officials and members of the community in Ferguson last month, when the St. Louis suburb was in the midst of protests for the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown.

“People consistently expressed concerns stemming from specific alleged incidents from general policing practices and from the lack of diversity on the Ferguson police force,” Holder said Thursday. “These anecdotal accounts underscore the history of mistrust of law enforcement in Ferguson that has received a good deal of attention.”

Holder said Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, and other city officials have pledged their cooperation in the investigation. The probe, he said, will “assess the police department’s use of force, deadly force. It will analyze stops, searches, and arrests. And it will examine the treatment of individuals detained at Ferguson’s city jail, in addition to other potentially discriminatory policing techniques and tactics that have been brought to light.”

Other police departments that were involved in handling the protests last month may not be immune from the Justice Department’s scrutiny, Holder said. “If at any point we find reason to expand our inquiry to include additional police forces in neighboring jurisdictions, we will not hesitate to do so.”

Holder also announced Thursday that the Justice Department will work with the St. Louis County Police Department in a “collaborative reform effort,” a comprehensive review of policies and training practices. The department was pulled off the scene in Ferguson just days after protests began, due to heavy-handed crowd-control tactics that included the use of tear gas and military-style equipment.

A separate Justice Department probe is looking into the events of Aug. 9 to determine whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown, violated Brown’s civil rights.

The Justice Department investigations will unfold parallel to an FBI civil-rights probe launched just days after Brown’s death. At the same time, a grand jury in St. Louis County is hearing the details of the case, but the jury will likely not decide whether to bring charges against Wilson until mid-October.

A Black President’s Burden

A Black President’s Burden
PBO – White House

This particular article belongs on the main page of TFC…

The National Memo

It was shortly before 1 a.m. when President Barack Obama arrived at the White House for his vacation break — that is, his break from his vacation. By late afternoon the same day, he had met with his national security team about Iraq and his attorney general about Ferguson, and was delivering a statement to the press in the White House briefing room. He looks tired, Twitter said. He isn’t wearing a tie, Twitter complained. Where is his passion? Twitter wanted to know. And then there was this, from retiring ABC correspondent Ann Compton, on Ferguson: “Have you considered going yourself? Is there more that you personally can do?”

Maybe a white president eventually would have gotten the Compton questions. With a black president, the only surprise was that they hadn’t been asked sooner.

Every time there is a demographic breakthrough, the pathbreaker confronts soaring expectations and symbolic responsibilities. John F. Kennedy had to explain how his Catholic faith would or wouldn’t influence him in the White House, and more recently he would have been on the spot to weigh in on sexual abuse scandals involving priests. A President Mitt Romney, steeped in a less familiar faith, would have been a de facto interpreter of what it means to be Mormon and pressed to comment on any developments involving his church.

Had President Hillary Clinton been in the Oval Office for the last few years, she would have been cross-pressured by senators with competing ideas of how to handle sexual assaults in the military. She might have been expected to show a special interest in the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls, in the plight of Saudi women who are legally the property of men, in female genital mutilation in Africa and Asia, and in the gender-based abuse and murder committed by the Islamic State.

If Clinton does become president, feminist expectations of her would be immeasurable, and destined to be dashed. There’s no way she could live up to her stirring pronouncement nearly 20 years ago, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” As Secretary of State, Clinton even encountered pushback for supporting Saudi women protesting their country’s ban on women drivers.

While Obama’s victory bulldozed a brick wall, it could not banish the past to the past. It thus falls to Obama to interpret the still painful black experience for the rest of America, a trial-and-error process that usually results in one faction or another being annoyed, alienated or disappointed. In this instance, Obama hasn’t branded the Ferguson police stupid, which is what he called the Cambridge police when they arrested Henry Louis Gates Jr., a black Harvard professor trying to get into his own locked home. He hasn’t said that if he had a son, he’d look like the dead Ferguson teen, Michael Brown, though he made headlines with that formulation a month after Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.

It’s been less than two weeks since the Brown shooting and police have said the 18-year-old is a suspect in a robbery that happened shortly before he was shot, two possible reasons for Obama’s caution. Ever the master calibrator, the president has talked of the tough job the police have to do, the tragedy of someone dying so young, the communities that “often find themselves isolated, often find themselves without hope, without economic prospects.” He sent a stand-in to Ferguson — Eric Holder, the first black attorney general.

If Obama wants to show personal passion, there is a way. He should take up the causes of voter registration and turnout in Ferguson, as Al Sharpton has done. Republicans call this exploiting a tragedy, but in reality it is promoting politics as a substitute for looting, shooting and street protests, in a place that needs to hear that message. Consider: Overall turnout in this year’s municipal election in Ferguson was about 12 percent — “an insult to your children,” Sharpton told mourners last weekend. Last year, according to research done for The Washington Post, black voter turnout was a tiny 6 percent — roughly one-third the level of white turnout.

As you’d expect, given those patterns, Ferguson has a white mayor, five white council members out of six, and a police force that is 94 percent white. The real shock is that this small St. Louis suburb is 67 percent black. There is no reason for blacks in Ferguson to feel isolated or hopeless. There is every reason for them to vote, and for Obama to remind them through exhortation and his very existence of the change that can be wrought at the ballot box.

Blake Farenthold Introduces Bill To Withhold Eric Holder’s Paycheck

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 04:  Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas., speaks at a news conference with other House republican freshmen to call on the Senate to take up action on the budget passed in the House in April and also house passed bills that they say will spur job growth and reduce the deficit.

The Huffington Post

In a targeted swipe against Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) announced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit federal employees found in contempt of Congress from receiving government paychecks.

Holder was held in contempt by House Republicans in 2012 for his non-compliance in releasing documents related to the Fast and Furious program, a botched federal gun-walking operation. Holder is the first sitting cabinet member in U.S. history to be found in contempt.

“My bill will at least prevent current and future federal employees, like Attorney General Holder, from continuing to collect their taxpayer-paid salaries while held in contempt of Congress,” Farenthold said in a statement announcing the “Contempt Act.”

Farenthold refused to question Holder during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on April 8, arguing that any other member of the public who refused to comply with a Justice Department subpoena “would be in jail.”

“The American people should not be footing the bill for federal employees who stonewall Congress or rewarding government officials’ bad behavior,” Farenthold said of his legislation.

The bill, officially introduced on Thursday, would suspend officials’ pay until the “date on which a resolution revoking such contempt is adopted by the House or Senate (as the case may be).”

In November, a group of 11 hard-line House Republicans, including Farenthold, attempted to impeach Holder for not complying with their congressional subpoena for Fast and Furious documents, among other allegations.

NOTE:   This guy was on Hardball last fall…watch his exchange with Chris Matthews

The Last Word – Attorney General Eric Holder questions ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws

Attorney General Eric Holder’s comments were poignant and yet, to African Americans very familiar.  The following video is a segment from The Last Word: