Michael Gerson

Cornyn has called for Holder's resignation. Unlike the legal determination of contempt, this is a cumulative judgment. Holder began his tenure by supporting a special prosecutor to investigate enhanced interrogation by CIA agents, even though career prosecutors found insufficient evidence for charges -- leading seven former CIA directors to denounce his assault on the institution. The attorney general proposed a New York civilian trial that would have given Khalid Sheik Mohammed a forum to embrace martyrdom and encourage violence -- leading to a revolt of New York Democratic politicians and the removal of the case from Holder's direct authority. His handling of the Fast and Furious case was botched from the start -- requiring President Obama to assert executive privilege to cover a trail of incompetence and forcing Democratic members of Congress to rally in the cause of opacity and mediocrity.

The problem is not primarily a matter of ideology. Holder is the critic of enhanced interrogation who defends the use of killer drones against American citizens. He is the enemy of indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay prison who has institutionalized indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay prison. His views seem to conform exactly to the contours of the president's political requirements at any given moment. "Like a cushion," David Lloyd George is reputed to have said of one opponent, "he always bore the impress of the last man who sat on him."

Yet this does not stop the lecturing. Unlike his congressional detractors, Holder was not "scared" of what Mohammed would say at trial. He prefers not to "cower." He says his critics lack "confidence in the American system of justice." It is Eric Holder's distinctive contribution to the American political system: self-righteousness without the inconvenience of principle.

"The supreme arrogance, the lack of accountability," says Cornyn, "are driving people up the wall. ... Is he going to be the chief law enforcement officer of the United States or the political arm of the administration? Every time Eric Holder has had a choice to make, he has made the political choice, not the one grounded in a reasonable interpretation of the law."

This presents an immediate, practical challenge. Holder's appointment of two prosecutors -- one an Obama campaign donor -- to investigate administration national security leaks is discredited before it begins. Which points to an immediate, practical need: an attorney general who inspires more trust than contempt.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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