If the last six years have taught Americans the perils of electing a one-time agitator as president, they've also taught us the damage a political activist can do as attorney general.
Eric Holder, who recently announced his intention to retire as attorney general, has done more violence to the law than any cabinet appointee in recent memory.
As the country's top law enforcement official, it was Holder's job to pursue justice equally and impartially. Instead, he shamelessly stretched the powers of his office to go after the administration's political opponents while ignoring the law when it suited his political preferences.
His Department of Justice scooped up the phone records of dozens of AP journalists in an attempt to find a leak and sought to bring criminal charges against a Fox News reporter for another, while at the same time ignoring devastating national security leaks that made the President look good (such as sensitive details about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden).
Holder was routinely an obstacle to justice, refusing to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate IRS targeting of conservative groups and refusing to answer questions about an agency’s scheme to arm Mexican drug cartels in an operation known as Fast and Furious". He tolerated dozens of federal agencies and officials ignoring Congressional document requests and even subpoenas, and set the worst possible example when his own refusal to testify resulted in the extraordinary step of Congress holding him in contempt--an action about which he was completely blase.
At the same time Holder pursued flagrantly partisan aims, he has stretched the power of his office in unprecedented ways. "Operation Choke Point" exemplifies how his Department of Justice operates. DOJ officials identify legal industries whose business they nonetheless oppose--gun and ammunitions sellers, pay day lenders, and tobacco sellers, for instance--and then work with the FDIC and CFPB to intimidate those industries’ banks and payment processors into cutting off service to the disfavored businesses, crippling their ability to operate.
They do this by having regulators approach the financial services companies and advise them that if any of their clients in the firearms industry, for example, are found to have violated the law, the financial services companies will be held responsible by the DOJ.
This puts banks and payment processors in the absurd position of having to police the activities of all of their clients in that industry--essentially an impossible task. Soon, the gun and ammunition dealers get notices from their banks telling them the banks will no longer be serving them due to the risks involved.
The idea is to shut down certain perfectly legal industries' ability to do business by making it so risky for financial services companies to have them as customers that they can't find a bank or a payment processor to work with. "Operation Choke Point" is a revealing bureaucratic reference to financial services as a "choke point" for all businesses--if they can cut off banking, lending, and payment processing to an industry, it can't possibly survive.
With "Operation Choke Point," then, Holder extended the power of the Justice Department not just beyond the Department’s purview, but to places actually beyond the reach of the law.
Like so many of Eric Holder's overreaches, this sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that nothing is outside the bureaucrats' power if they are bullying enough.
The next attorney general must restore the commitment to impartial justice and to the rule of law that Eric Holder did so much to undermine. If the next occupant of the office does not retreat from Holder’s overreach, disdain for Congress, destruction of the balance of power, and refusal of accountability, he or she will be leading us in a very dangerous direction.
The Senate should thoroughly question the new nominee and refuse to approve anyone who does not pledge to enforce the laws impartially, cooperate with Congressional oversight, and abandon the illegal activities like “Operation Choke Point”.