Holder's Seat Getting Hotter?

Posted: Jun 03, 2013 10:25 AM

Are the long knives finally getting unsheathed for Eric Holder?  Veteran NBC Newsman Tom Brokaw offered this blunt assessment of Holder's viability on Meet the Press:

The New York Times piece cited by both Gregory and Brokaw hints that President Obama's proverbial bus may be revving up its engine:

Over the course of four and a half years, no other member of President Obama’s cabinet has been at the center of so many polarizing episodes or the target of so much criticism. While the White House publicly backed Mr. Holder as he tried to smooth over the latest uproar amid new speculation about his future, some in the West Wing privately tell associates they wish he would step down, viewing him as politically maladroit. But the latest attacks may stiffen the administration’s resistance in the near term to a change for fear of emboldening critics … But that does not mitigate the frustration of some presidential aides. “The White House is apoplectic about him, and has been for a long time,” said a Democratic former government official who did not want to be identified while talking about friends. Some advisers to Mr. Obama believe that Mr. Holder does not manage or foresee problems, the former official said. “How hard would it be to anticipate that The A.P. would be unhappy?” the former official said. “And then they haven’t defended their position.”

Brokaw believes Team Obama may be executing a Beltway "two-step," where named administration officials stand by their man on the record, while deputies telegraph the White House's true sentiments on background.  In this case, the Times reports that West Wing insiders are trying to nudge Holder toward the door, his central crime being political maladriotness.  Their "apoplexy" over the Attorney General isn't on the merits of his terrible decisions and obvious dishonesty, mind you.  They're cool with his behavior -- from pressing for Bush-era recriminations, to backing New York City trials for Al Qaeda leaders, to presiding over and misleading Congress on Fast & Furious, to spying on journalists.  What they can't abide is Holder's lack of political finesse in carrying out his agenda.  These unnamed administration sources say they "wish" Holder would just step down on his own and spare everyone more headaches.  What they fail to mention, of course, is that the Attorney General serves at the pleasure of the president.  Barack Obama can pull the plug on Holder whenever he'd like; "wishing" has nothing to do with it. 

Holder's stewardship of the Justice Department has been controversial, ham-fisted, and exceedingly political.  In the midst of the current scandal, Holder has alternatively pleaded ignorance and innocence -- calling further into question his veracity, and his PR team's latest ploy was an abject embarrassment.  The Attorney General is a lightning rod.  He's an incompetent at best, and a malicious liar at worst.  He's being investigated for perjury, the prima facie case for which is rather strong.  He's been held in criminal contempt of Congress on a separate issue.  And he's carrying out a farcical investigation into himself, which is a public laughingstock.   Why hasn't the president tossed Holder overboard, as he's done with other subordinates who've outlived their usefulness?  Three prevailing theories:  (1) Holder knows too much.  Because the Attorney General knows "where the bodies are buried" within this administration, Obama can't afford to alienate him by offering him up as a sacrificial lamb.  (2) Obama and Holder's relationship is very strong, so the former is treating the latter with extraordinary patience.  Obama places a high premium on political loyalty; in addition to being a close friend and confidante, Holder has been a reliable ally in wielding his power to advance the president's agenda over the years.  (3) Cutting Holder loose in the thick of scandalmania (which appears to be expanding by the day) may accomplish little more than emboldening Obama's critics and fueling the media feeding frenzy.  I personally come down in the middle of options two and three.  Option one would be more compelling if I didn't believe Holder is extremely unlikely to "flip" on Obama under almost any circumstance; he likely sees his legacy as inextricably linked to his boss's, and would therefore do nothing to intentionally harm the Obama presidency.

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