Despite pressure from Republicans and even some Obama aides, Attorney General Eric Holder is for now signaling he has no intention of stepping down in the wake of a controversy over the Department of Justice seizing the phone records of journalists from the Associated Press and Fox News.
Bloomberg News reported Tuesday that Holder had last week “gathered his top aides last week to deliver a message: He was fine, and they all needed to stay focused and get their work done.” And in a move designed to signal he understands the fury of journalists over the phone records, allies of Holder have participated in stories with by the Washington Post and Newsweek that paint the attorney general as concerned about striking the right balance between stopping national security leaks and protecting the ability of journalists to gather information.
For now, Holder, the first-ever black attorney general, is essentially in the same place he was during Obama’s first four years in office: hated by Republicans, respected but not beloved by liberals, and supported by key officials in the administration like Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett but viewed by others as a political liability.
A number of Republicans have called for him to step down, but so far no Democrats have done so, allowing the White House to portray the controversy over Holder as another example of the intense partisanship of congressional Republicans.
Despite the Republicans’ attention on Holder, keeping him in place has two obvious benefits. First, the president himself does not want to jettison a longtime ally who was an adviser during the 2008 campaign and whose wife, Sharon, is a close friend of Michelle Obama.
More importantly, removing Holder would force Obama to battle with Republicans to confirm the next attorney general. The GOP would use those confirmation hearings to dredge up every controversy of Holder’s tenure and potentially still not confirm a new attorney general.