CBS: Eric Holder 'Ignoring Political Pressure;' Given 'Hero's Welcome' After Bush 'Cronyism'

In a puff piece on Attorney General Eric Holder on CBS's Sunday Morning, correspondent Rita Braver praised his professionalism: "...ignoring political pressure is Holder's constant message as he talks to Justice Department lawyers....Though he was a key advisor to the Obama campaign and considers the President a friend, Holder says he now keeps it purely professional." [Audio available here]

Throughout the interview, Braver portrayed Holder as lacking any political agenda: "And when he took office last February, he got a hero's welcome. It was in part, he believes, a reaction to cronyism and questionable policies advocated in the Bush-era Justice Department." As Braver mentioned Bush "cronyism," a photo of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared on screen. Holder proclaimed: "Waterboarding, things like that, from my perspective, inconsistent with the great traditions of this department."

Braver began with some gentle criticism of Holder: "And with controversies over everything –  from his pushing to quickly close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo to his very public condemnation of the new Arizona law that cracks down on undocumented immigrants – even some Holder fans are saying, 'he's honest, he's smart but sometimes he can be a little tone deaf about how things play out in public.'" That gave Holder the opportunity to declare: "I don't have the same latitude that other politicians might have to put my finger up to the wind and figure out what's going to be popular....So it's not tone deafness. It's a commitment to justice and a commitment to the law." Braver then touted Holder "ignoring political pressure."

Near the end of the segment, Braver noted how "Holder raised a lot of eyebrows with his own comments on race last year." After playing the clip of Holder calling America a "nation of cowards" on racial matters, Braver announced: "But he says he stands by those remarks." Holder argued: "I mean that comment was really urging people to get out of what I call their – the safety of their cocoons." Braver never questioned the offensive and unprofessional nature of the comment nor did she ever bring up the Justice Department's refusal to prosecute members of the Black Panthers for voter intimidation during the 2008 election.

Instead, she continued with a more sympathetic tone: "Because you're the first African-American attorney general, do you put any extra pressure on yourself?"

Braver concluded the interview by wondering: "And as for Eric Holder's legacy? Is there one thing that you kind of keep in mind about how you see this job all the time?" Holder replied: "It's what I tell the people in this department all the time. Do the right thing."

Here is a full transcript of Braver's interview with Holder, aired on September 12:
9:33AM ET SEGMENT:

CHARLES OSGOOD: This weekend's anniversary of the 9/11 attacks focuses our attention once more on America's war against terrorism. Attorney General Eric Holder plays a key role in that fight. And this past week he fielded questions from our Rita Braver.

ERIC HOLDER: It's something that I start my day with. It's something that I end my day with. It's the thing that I spend most of my time on.

RITA BRAVER: For Attorney General Eric Holder, it's not just ceremonies like this one-

HOLDER: Today as we read the names of these fallen heros-

BRAVER: Honoring law enforcement officials who died on September 11. Every day for him is a reminder of terrorist threats. So this is where you meet with your staff and what else here?

HOLDER: We have a meeting every morning.

BRAVER: But outside the confines of the Justice Department, Holder has been subject to criticism for his handling of trials of accused terrorists.

JEFF SESSIONS: I believe this decision is dangerous. I believe it's misguided.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think you've made a fundamental mistake here.

BRAVER: Especially for the decision he announced – and then had to retract after it provoked an outcry – that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other alleged September 11 plotters would be tried in New York City.

HOLDER: I'm not scared of what Khalid Sheik Mohammed has to say at trial.

BRAVER: The trial date and place are now in limbo. And with controversies over everything –  from his pushing to quickly close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo to his very public condemnation of the new Arizona law that cracks down on undocumented immigrants – even some Holder fans are saying, 'he's honest, he's smart but sometimes he can be a little tone deaf about how things play out in public.'

HOLDER: No, I'm not tone deaf. But I understand what the nature of being attorney general is. I don't have the same latitude that other politicians might have to put my finger up to the wind and figure out what's going to be popular.

BRAVER: Does the criticism-

HOLDER: So it's not tone deafness. It's a commitment to justice and a commitment to the law. It is not tone deafness.

BRAVER: That got you.

HOLDER: Yeah, it does. Because I think that is a criticism that is fundamentally unfair and is political in nature. We want to make sure that this department of justice is true to its great traditions.

BRAVER: In fact, ignoring political pressure is Holder's constant message as he talks to Justice Department lawyers in places like Mobile, Alabama.

HOLDER: The only thing that I want you to do is to make sure that you do justice.

BRAVER: At 59, Eric Himpton Holder Jr. is the first U.S. attorney general to spend most of his career at the Justice Department. Starting just out of Columbia Law School.

HOLDER: I mean, this Department of Justice formed me as a lawyer.

BRAVER: And when he took office last February, [cheering crowd] he got a hero's welcome. It was in part, he believes, a reaction to cronyism and questionable policies advocated in the Bush-era Justice Department.

[ON-SCREEN: PICTURES OF ALBERTO GONZALES]

HOLDER: Waterboarding, things like that, from my perspective, inconsistent with the great traditions of this department. And when I say traditions, I really want to stress under Republican as well as Democratic attorneys general. Let's go look.

BRAVER: May we go see? So in Holder's personal office-

HOLDER: As you can see, it's not very large.

BRAVER: -there's a portrait of Attorney General Janet Reno, the Democrat for whom he served as deputy.

HOLDER: He is the ultimate symbol of independence.

BRAVER: But in his conference room, Holder has a portrait of Republican Elliott Richardson, fired by President Nixon when he refused to stop the Watergate investigation.
                                            
HOLDER: There are times when you have to do what Elliott Richardson did, which is too simply to say, no. And resign.

BRAVER: Though he was a key advisor to the Obama campaign and considers the President a friend, Holder says he now keeps it purely professional. Do you and the President ever get into it?

HOLDER: Without characterizing what they are, I will say we have heated conversations.

BRAVER: Holder says the person who keeps him on an even keel is his wife, Dr. Sharon Malone, an OBGYN. And he cheerfully admits that she made a lot more money than he did for many years.

HOLDER: You know, I'm a 21st century guy, secure in who I am. And so I was more than happy to have these great government jobs while she was bringing in all the money that she made and was giving birth to three children.

BRAVER: Holder says his sense of what is right comes from his parents, immigrants from Barbados. You have said that your father faced discrimination. How so?

HOLDER: While he was in the service in the South and in Oklahoma, he was refused service at a couple of places where he was in uniform and was told that African-Americans, blacks, negros, were not served. And in spite of that, I have never known a man who loved this country more than my father did.

BRAVER: Holder raised a lot of eyebrows with his own comments on race last year.

HOLDER: In things racial, we have always been and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.

BRAVER: But he says he stands by those remarks.

HOLDER: I mean that comment was really urging people to get out of what I call their – the safety of their cocoons.

BRAVER: Because you're the first African-American attorney general, do you put any extra pressure on yourself?

HOLDER: Yeah, I certainly feel that. I feel there's a certain responsibility I have, a pressure that I feel that I think is not something that's been imposed on me as much as it is internal.

BRAVER: And as for Eric Holder's legacy? Is there one thing that you kind of keep in mind about how you see this job all the time?

HOLDER: It's what I tell the people in this department all the time. Do the right thing.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC