Eric Holder has announced that he is leaving his post of Attorney General, which he has sullied and degraded for six years.
A corporate lawyer with the Wall Street law firm Covington & Burling, Holder will be remembered for his timid defense of civil rights, his overseeing. and even encouragement of the massive militarization of the nation’s police forces, his anti-First Amendment efforts to pursue not just whistleblowers but the journalists who use them, threatening both with jail and in fact jailing a number of them (particularly in the case of whistleblower extraordinaire Edward Snowden, and Wikileaks journalist Julian Assange, both of whom reportedly face US treason charges), and his weak enforcement of environmental protection laws.
But Holder, who came into his position as the nation’s top law enforcement officer in early 2009 at the start of the Obama administration and at the height of the financial crisis, will be best remembered for his overt announcement that there would be no attempt to prosecute the criminals at the top of the nation’s biggest so-called “too-big-to-fail” banks, whose brazen crimes of theft, deceit, fraud and perjury during the Bush/Cheney years and beyond sank not just the US but the global economy into a crisis which is still with us.
Holder not only did not make any effort to put Wall Street’s banking titans behind bars for their epic crimes; he did not even make them step down from their exalted and absurdly highly compensated executive positions when his office reached negotiated settlements with the banks in civil cases involving those crimes — civil cases that in almost all cases allowed the banks to settle without even having to admit their guilt. (His ludicrous excuse: punishing these criminal executive might jeopardize the banks’ stocks and hurt “innocent” shareholders!) Nor was this legal benevalence limited to purely financial crimes. Banks like Citicorp and HSBC, which were found to have knowingly laundered millions — even billions — of dollars in drug money for drug cartels, were also allowed by Holder to escape with petty fines, and no prosecution of a single bank executive.
It is being suggested that Holder may opt to go back to his old post as a partner at Covington & Burling, which would be the final, though hardly surprising, insult to the American people, providing a particularly galling example of Washington’s revolving door between government regulators and enforcers and the industries that they were supposed to be regulating or keeping honest.
God, how far we have fallen from the days when Ramsey Clark was attorney general, and left to become a leading critic of Washington’s imperial government at home and abroad!
At this point the Obama Administration is little more than a place holder until the next presidential election in 2016. President Obama, who campaigned as a fire-breathing liberal who would restore constitutional government, end the Bush/Cheney wars, re-open the government so that transparency instead of secrecy would be the default position, and take decisive action against climate change, has abandoned all those false promises.
The illegal and unconstitutional wars continue in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are now being expanded into Africa and Syria and, at least by proxy, but most dangerously, to Ukraine. Civil liberties are under attack at least as severely as they were back in the McCarthy period, with whistleblowers being jailed, with the president asserting the unfettered right to order the killing without trial of American citizens, and with a spying system in place run by the National Security Agency that is monitoring and storing, by its own admission, virtually all electronic communications of the American people. The government is also as closed and secret in its operation as it has been since 1974, when it was broadened following the Watergate and Cointelpro scandals, and is certainly less transparent and open than it was even under Bush/Cheney. The Obama administration has also done little to nothing about tackling carbon emissions despite the president’s lies to the contrary in his address to the UN.
In all of this extraordinary list of treachery and cowardice, Holder has played his sycophantic role as a defender of corporate America, of white privilege, and of Washington power. He has been both the John Ashcroft and the Alberto Gonzalez of the Obama administration. (Actually, that comparison is unfair to John Ashcroft, who at least was a man of conviction — repellent as some of those convictions may have been. In Holder’s case, we have a man not of principle, but who is simply a corporate lawyer, ready to do his clients’ bidding, however sordid and corrupt.)
Given the depths of unpopularity to which President Obama has sunk after six years of selling out his own electoral base and catering to the interests of the rich and powerful, the military establishment and neo-con right-wing of the Washington policy elite, it is safe to say that Holder’s replacement, still unknown, will be no better, though given Holder’s tenure it’s also hard to imagine his successor being much worse either.
So good riddance to Holder. But it will be worth while, and indeed important, to watch carefully this departing Obama official’s behavior back in the private sector, from under which rock he emerged to be attorney general six years ago.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).