Should perpetuating racial grievance be the defining mission of a U.S. Attorney General? Eric Holder, who has held the office for the past five and a half years, really believes it is – and acts accordingly. A new book, Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department (Broadside), presents a strong case for removing Holder from office as a corrective to his many abuses of power related to racial and other issues. In 256 pages, authors John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky pull no punches in revealing how Holder and other department officials routinely have subordinated rule of law to radical politics, all the while stonewalling Congress and punishing internal dissenters. They also, properly, point a finger at Holder’s boss, President Obama.
There is an old saying in the world of bureaucracy: “Personnel is policy.” This is certainly true of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), a $27 billion cabinet-level agency with about 114,000 employees. Arguably more than any other federal official, the attorney general (AG) carries out the president’s agenda. Fund, a widely-read columnist who wrote for many years for the Wall Street Journal, and Spakovsky, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow who served under George W. Bush as a counsel to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and as a member of the Federal Election Commission, convey as much. The AG establishes an administration’s enforcement priorities and watches the president’s political backside. Though a political appointee, he must be thoroughly impartial. The authors explain (p. 19):
Why does it matter who runs the U.S. Justice Department? Because that person heads one of the most powerful executive branch agencies in the federal government – one that has enormous discretionary power to pursue people accused of breaking law and to exert major influence over social, economic, and national security policies by the choices its leader makes in enforcement. It requires someone who understands that while the attorney general is a political appointee, he (or she) has a sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and enforce the law in an objective, nonpolitical manner.
In other words, to truly understand how President Obama means to transform this country – his mission is far from accomplished – it is necessary to know who Eric Holder is.
Eric Holder and Barack Obama first met at a small Washington, D.C. dinner party in November 2004 celebrating Obama’s recent election as a U.S. senator from Illinois. In short order, they recognized a kindred spirit. Holder, born and raised in New York City, was a natural for attorney general in the event Obama became president. Both attended Columbia University as undergraduates; Holder earned his law degree there as well. And both were possessed of high ambition. Obama was impressed with the fact that Holder had been a ranking official in President Clinton’s Justice Department – in the first term as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and in the second term as deputy attorney general, answering only to Attorney General Janet Reno. Indeed, as deputy attorney general, with Reno battling Parkinson’s disease, Holder arguably had become the most powerful person in the department. And he wasn’t hesitant to use his power. According to department insiders, he heavily influenced Reno’s decision to call off a probe of what likely were illegal contributions to Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign by a network of shady characters with close ties to the mainland Chinese government. Moreover, he helped persuade President Clinton to issue a last-day-in-office pardon to fugitive financier Marc Rich, living in Switzerland since his 1983 indictment for tax evasion and sale of oil to Iran during the embassy hostage crisis.
Holder had something else in common with Obama: a conviction that blacks in America were second-class citizens and needed compensation at the expense of whites. Like Obama, Holder, though light-skinned, was a black who identified far more with the black side of his ancestry than with the white side. And like Obama, Holder was, at least in part, a second-generation American. His father grew up in Barbados and his maternal grandparents also were natives of that Caribbean nation. Holder’s sense of grievance toward whites was stoked by his black wife, Sharon Malone. Malone, a Washington-area physician, has proven an edgy activist in pressing grievances against whites. The pursuit of racial payback isn’t just a trait of the Obama Justice Department, argue the authors. It is a defining trait. It explains the department’s marked preference for, among other things, hiring staff attorneys straight from radical nonprofit advocacy groups. It also explains the DOJ’s use of the Voting Rights Act to intimidate certain states into race-based gerrymandering in the post-Census redistricting process.
During the George W. Bush years, Holder was a star litigator at the Washington, D.C. legal shop of Covington & Burling. With Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008, he became the attorney general nominee. The Democratic-majority Senate approved him by a 75-21 margin. As could have been predicted, Holder’s tenure in office has been the antithesis of objective, nonpolitical investigation and enforcement. Granted, he is not the first attorney general to use law selectively to reward friends and punish enemies. The authors cite Nixon-era Attorney General John Mitchell as a flagrant example. But what separates Eric Holder from his predecessors, including Mitchell, is the thorough manner of his politicization. It is almost a newsworthy event when he enforces law even-handedly. Moreover, his partisanship is opposed to liberty as a foundational principle. For him, individual rights are secondary to equality of social outcomes, especially when race enters the picture. Holder has no moral or constitutional problem in favoring one class of citizens over another. On a practical level, he believes blacks should enjoy more rights than whites. His rationale is all too familiar: Until blacks reach the same status as whites, breaking or at least bending the law is necessary. To treat people as equal under law, as he sees it, is wrong if it yields unequal social outcomes. This is the moral ammunition justifying the doctrine of “disparate impact.” In this negation of rule of law, noble ends justify illegal means.
Holder repeatedly has made clear his loyalties. And those loyalties are not to the American people as a whole. In the name of affirmative action – rechristened in recent years as “diversity” and “inclusion” – he sees blacks as deserving favored treatment in all aspects of American life, from employment to college admissions to criminal punishment. The authors refer to a comment Holder made in 2012 at a Columbia University forum: “Affirmative action has been an issue since segregation practices. The question is not when does it end, but when does it begin…When do people of color truly get the benefits to which they are entitled?” A more transparent expression of support for an ongoing race-based reparations program hardly can be imagined. This is more than a personal view. It’s a core assumption upon which the Obama Justice Department operates. Holder, along with his civil rights enforcers, particularly the first-term chief, Thomas Perez (who became secretary of labor a year ago), and an armada of like-minded staff attorneys, regularly apply or ignore law depending on whether it helps or hinders favored classes of citizens in the service of equality of social outcomes.
Holder gave a taste of things to come in 2009, when he refused to prosecute certain members of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) revealed on videotape, in semi-military garb, to be intimidating white voters from entering a Philadelphia polling station on Election Day 2008. The NBPP claimed the members were there to provide “security.” It was an odd definition by any standard. According to one eyewitness, a Black Panther named King Samir Shabazz carried a billy club and pointed it at white voters as he and another Panther shouted epithets such as “White devil!” and “You’re about to be ruled by the black man, cracker!” The foundation for a prosecution had been laid on January 6, 2009 during the waning days of the Bush administration. Federal prosecutors filed a civil suit against the NBPP and three leading members, Malik Zulu Shabazz, King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson. Yet that May, despite damning footage and pending testimony, Attorney General Holder greatly narrowed charges against King Shabazz and dropped them entirely against Jackson and NBPP. Throughout the case, Holder and his allies proved uncooperative in response to inquiries as to why the lawsuit was dropped. Holder forced out Christopher Coates, head of the Justice Department’s Voting Section, for having the temerity to provide material facts about the Black Panthers case. J. Christian Adams, the Civil Rights Division trial attorney-turned-public whistleblower who had brought forth the original suit, stated in testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: “I was told by Voting Section management that cases are not going to be brought against black defendants on [behalf] of white victims.”
Holder has continued to show an affinity for the NBPP, which remains well and alive. In 2012 the Black Panthers offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of a white neighborhood crime watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, dead or alive, for the “murder” of a troubled black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Overwhelming evidence (see here and here) showed that Zimmerman had acted in self-defense in the face of a vicious and potentially fatal assault by Martin in Sanford, Florida. A state jury recognized as much last July in returning a “not guilty” verdict. Months later, Holder was spinning his wheels over how to bring forth federal “hate crime” charges against Zimmerman.
Exercised as Holder was about the verdict, he hasn’t seen any need to take action against a host of black-on-white group assaults in recent years for which no case for self-defense remotely can be made on behalf of the assailants. In Tacoma, Wash., for example, a car full of blacks shouted racial epithets at two white servicemen; one of the blacks shortly thereafter stabbed one of the soldiers to death. In Brooklyn, N.Y., ten blacks surrounded a car with a white husband and wife inside, hurling insults at occupants. In Pittsburgh, a group of blacks pulled a white woman from her car and beat her. And at the 2011 Iowa State Fair, roving groups of blacks attacked and beat whites for three nights in a row. A police report indicated some of the assailants were chanting “Beat Whitey Night.” Somehow our distinguished attorney general has not seen any reason to investigate, much less prosecute these offenses.
The Holder Justice Department also has made it a habit of going to bat for blacks by making unsubstantiated claims of “racism” in hopes of shaking down a private- or public-sector money tree. He has led “disparate impact” lawsuits against any number of banks because their lending policies, though not willfully discriminatory, have resulted in unequal outcomes. Countrywide, SunTrust and Wells Fargo each have been shaken down by the DOJ’s application of the affirmative action doctrine to mortgage lending. Under Holder, the Justice Department also has strongarmed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) into expanding its ongoing role as a cash dispensary for the many thousands of blacks claiming to be “farmers” denied USDA credit on the basis of race. National Legal and Policy Center has provided extensive coverage of this Pigford case (originally filed more than 15 years ago under Clinton) and the subsequent copycat lawsuits filed on behalf of Indian, Hispanic and female farmers. The evidence overwhelmingly has revealed these cases to be devoid of any basis for lawsuits. Moreover, the applications for awards for monetary damages have been shot through with fraud. The authors cite one example from Arkansas, where hundreds of black women applied for payouts despite the fact that an USDA employee in that state said he witnessed a grand total of one black female apply for a farm loan in his many years there. Pigford payouts to black farmers alone have reached $2.3 billion – and likely will climb higher.
The Justice Department also has pursued cases which, while not racial in character, are indicative of the same attitude that breaking or ignoring the law is permissible if it leads to political advantage and/or redistributive justice. The authors early in the book devote a chapter to well-publicized federal raids in August 2009 and April 2011 on Gibson Guitar offices and factories in Tennessee that seized about a half-million dollars worth of company property. What was the motive for this action? Gibson officials were in the dark. “Everything is sealed,” said company CEO Henry Juszkiewicz. “They won’t tell us anything.” DOJ’s Environmental and Resources Division eventually offered an explanation: It was investigating possible violations of the Lacey Act, which bars importation of flora or fauna to the U.S. in ways that contravene foreign laws. Yet the official claim proved hollow. The ebony and rosewood from India and Madagascar for Gibson fingerboards was in full accordance with those countries’ laws, something the DOJ effectively admitted when it forced a settlement upon the firm in 2012. After the settlement, the most likely reason came out. Juzskiewicz had been a generous donor to Republican candidates for office; Chris Martin, CEO of one of Gibson’s main competitors, C. F. Martin and Co., was a supporter of Democratic candidates.
The Justice Department under Holder also has jeopardized national security by applying the view that international terrorists are typical criminals who merely need to be “brought to justice.” Holder, by his actions, seems to believe that a person who tries to blow up a commercial jet with passengers inside should be treated the same as a robber holding up a 7-Eleven or gas station. By equating the two, he has demonstrated a lack of concern for the safety of all Americans. Fund and Spakovsky note, for example, that Holder took great pride in announcing that federal agents had advised airline terrorist Richard Reid (“the shoe bomber”) of his Miranda rights. They also note that Holder, without justification, reopened a Bush-era case that investigated alleged CIA abuses of dozens of captured terrorists – treatment that in no way qualified as torture under either applicable statutes or presidential authority. Holder also thwarted probes into the September 11, 2012 attacks on two U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the murder of four Americans.
The question arises: Why aren’t people of principle, regardless of political party, standing up to this reckless enforcement of the law? Actually, a number of people have stood up. But getting results is easier said than done. As outsiders, they have been stonewalled. As insiders, they have been harassed (often by peers) or threatened with firing. Under Holder, the Justice Department has been determined to make fact-finding as difficult as possible. Within the government, two forces normally serving as checks against DOJ recklessness – the department’s own Office of Legal Counsel and Congress – have been hamstrung.
The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) for decades has provided objective advisory opinions to the White House and federal agencies on the constitutionality of proposed courses of executive branch action and congressional legislation. Its lawyers have earned a reputation as a source of honest and unbiased work, willing to resist prevailing political winds both inside and outside the Justice Department. Holder, however, views the office as a hindrance to justice. If a particular piece of advice doesn’t advance Obama administration goals, he and his aides simply ignore it. Morale at OLC has dropped accordingly. One consequence of this is that the Justice Department has lost an uncharacteristically large proportion of its cases at the Supreme Court. Indeed, since January 2012 alone, note the authors, the High Court unanimously has ruled against the department nine times.
As for relations with Congress, Holder has shown a repeated disdain for answering reasonable questions. If he doesn’t lie outright, he has an extraordinary gift for dissembling and obfuscating. In sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on May 15, 2013, the authors note, Holder stated that he never had been involved in, or even contemplated, prosecuting members of the press over publication of classified material. Yet following the hearing, the committee learned that Holder explicitly had approved a search warrant for the e-mails of Fox News reporter James Rosen. When later questioned by the panel as to the contradiction, Holder refused to answer. The authors also quote Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who says Holder “either is the pawn of others engaged in the undermining of rule of law, or he is pleading convenient ignorance he is all too fully aware of.” And at a Senate panel hearing on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer health insurance mandate, his responses were so evasive and confusing that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., likened them to “Orwellian doublespeak.”
Congress as a whole hasn’t been passive either. On June 28, 2012, the House of Representatives twice voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress – on criminal and civil charges – for his failure to comply with a subpoena for documents relating to his role in the Justice Department’s mishandling of Operation Fast and Furious, an anti-drug trafficking sting that supplied hundreds of weapons to Mexican criminals and drug cartel leaders, one of which was used to murder Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010 in southern Arizona. The authors devote a whole chapter to this saga. In May 2011 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Holder claimed to have no recollection of the planning and execution of Fast and Furious, an assertion flatly contradicted by evidence. The full House passed the criminal contempt resolution by 255-67; it passed the civil contempt resolution by 258-95. In each case, even some Democrats joined the Republican majority. Holder and his loyalists, however, have remained unfazed.
In the final chapter, “What Is to Be Done?” Fund and Spakovsky, sensing the reader’s growing sense of exasperation, invoke the magic word: impeachment. Congress, they note, always has held the power to impeach federal officials – not just the president – who flagrantly breach their duties. Lawmakers have used this option sparingly, but it is there. The authors, mindful of the political obstacles, argue that if ever there were a case of such action being warranted, this would be it. Short of this, they cite alternatives to set the Justice Department on the right course. Most important is limiting the ability of staff attorneys to collaborate with outside groups with the intent of forcing consent decrees and costly settlements upon selected targets. The ultimate antidote is an attorney general dedicated to impartial law enforcement. Yet even if such a person could be found in a post-Obama era, the authors caution, a full reversal of misfortune may take many years (p. 217):
There is no way to know how long it will take to repair the damage that Eric Holder has done to the management and operation of the Justice Department. One thing we do know for sure – it will take a great deal of work by a new attorney general who is willing to take on the activists that Holder will leave embedded within the career civil service ranks of the department. And it will take political willpower and steadfastness of a kind that is rarely seen in Washington.
Fund and Spakovsky have written a fine and necessary laymen’s guide to the breakdown of accountability at the Justice Department in the age of Obama. Good as it is, however, the book would have benefited from a discussion of Holder’s habitual blind spot for corruption among allies in Congress. The DOJ, for example, did not prosecute Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., for failing to report, or pay taxes on, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of income and assets on his disclosure forms. The House of Representatives had censured Rangel, who resigned his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship based on information exposed by National Legal and Policy Center. Moreover, the Justice Department dropped its prosecution of former Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., following an extensive FBI probe concluding that he had steered hundreds of millions of dollars to nonprofit groups in his district and then concealed these earmarks by failing to disclose personal income and assets. Conveniently, the DOJ dropped its probe soon after Mollohan voted for the Obama health care law. The department also has been missing in action in the more recent case of Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y. Several of Meeks’ close associates have been arrested and are awaiting trial based on information by provided by NLPC to the New York Post and the New York Times.
Eric Holder and the people who eagerly carry out his enforcement regime are not an anomaly. They are the products of a political culture that promotes redress of collective grievance over individual liberty. In this mindset, for example, it makes no difference if white people are possessed of good will or are innocent of any wrongdoing. By virtue of being white, they are to be presumed beneficiaries of unearned privileges. The Justice Department long has provided a career boost for lawyers who believe this, but never so much as now. And the ultimate issue is larger than race. It is how one understands our Constitution and national identity. If Holder is not anti-American, without question he views law in ways that bear at best a passing resemblance to the polity established by our Founders. In alerting the reader to the dangers of executive branch enthusiasm gone wild, John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky surely deserve a round of applause.