Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. recently talked with Washington Bureau Justice Department reporter Timothy M. Phelps about various aspects of his last five years in office.
Second Term Agenda: What I have tried to do in this second term, after a conversation with, a memo that I shared with the president, is to really kind of put some attention on the areas that are of great interest to me and of great interest to him as well. Criminal justice reform, reformation of the voting rights act, works on financial fraud cases, I mean these are the kind of things that I’ve been interested in for a good amount of time but we have focused on as part of the second term agenda.
First Term Crises: I think that if to the extent that you feel or that others feel that somehow I was distracted in the first term, by Fast and Furious or Guantanamo, KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed], whatever, that’s simply not the case, you know. My band width is such that I have the ability to deal with those issues but also deal with the other things that were going on in the department.
Departure Date? Well I’m certainly going to serve well into 2014. My focus is not necessarily time sensitive or time derived. It’s really more on the subject matter that I define for myself as important and that I want to accomplish before I leave.
Proudest accomplishment? I think that’s almost like asking me to choose which of my kids I like the most. And that’s a difficult thing, you know, not all of them behave well at all times, and that would be true I think of the divisions here. But they are all important to me, and I think an attorney general makes a mistake if you focus on one to the exclusion of the other.
National Security has changed the job of AG. I think about the time that I was here both as a line lawyer, as deputy attorney general, and now as attorney general, the Justice Department in the pre-9/11 world was not really a national security component of the federal government. We had national security cases, but the emphasis that is now placed on national security matters. The fact that I go on a weekly basis to the situation room to meet with the president to talk about the threat stream and what’s going on in the national security sphere, the fact that I start my day with national security matters, the Justice Department fundamentally changed in that way.
Criticism from the left. The reality is that when it comes to national security matters I have done things in the way that I think is totally consistent with my view of the Constitution, my view of the way the Justice Department has traditionally conducted itself. I don’t think that the decisions I’ve made have put a tension between an adherence to civil liberties, a respect for individual rights and a desire to protect the American people.
Targeting reporters: I know that dealing with the press in connection with those leak matters the latter part of last year, I think what you have to look at there after the furor arose I made decisions to make changes about the way in which the department conducts itself in its interactions with the media and I think we’re in a better place now then we were then.