— -- Eric Holder’s days as attorney general are numbered. And in an interview with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas, he reflected on his six years leading a department that he first started working for at the age of 25, as a lawyer fresh out of Columbia Law School.
Leaving the department is “bittersweet ... in the truest sense of the word,” Holder said, adding there’s some “satisfaction” in being the nation’s first African-American attorney general.
“I am aware of the historical significance of my appointment,” Holder conceded. “I am hoping that I've done a job that would make proud the people who made it possible; the people who sacrificed, the people who struggled, the people who dreamed, the people who gave their lives. I owe a special something to them.”
Nevertheless, Holder, 64, has had his ups and downs, and his share of controversies. Here’s how he described to ABC News some particular moments of his tenure:
WORST DAY ON THE JOB
Dec. 14, 2012: The day a 20-year-old opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children and six others. “I cried. The men and women who were up there that day cried. We hugged each other,” Holder told ABC News, recounting his visit to the school, where the carpets and bathroom were still stained with blood. “Those little angels were piled up almost like cord wood. … That was, without question, the worst day.”
BEST DAY ON THE JOB
“It’s hard to pick out any one day,” Holder said. “I have certainly liked the visits I’ve made around the country. I've had the opportunity to go to every district in this county. I think I'm the first attorney general to have done that.” Holder said other “good days” are those that let him “sit down with the career people, take pictures with them, hear about what it is they're doing, the problems that they are facing.”
DINING WITH THE ENEMY?
Holder has been a lightning rod for Republican critics, who Holder suggested differ from him in that he’s “a person who likes to talk about facts and talk about policies that are going to change things that have too long been unaddressed.” But while he and many Republican have “butted heads,” they’ve also sat down for many meals together, according to Holder. “What you don't know about are the breakfasts I've had in my conference room with some of the same people who were yelling at me a couple of days before,” Holder recalled. “The lunches that we've had, the phone calls that we make, the progress that we've made, the legislation that we've passed by working together.”
SETTING A RECORD
“If you look at the work of this Justice Department, we have brought record numbers of cases against police departments around the country,” Holder told ABC News when asked about the department’s response to high-profile cases in Ferguson, Missouri, and Sanford, Florida. The Justice Department announced this week federal charges would not be filed against George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin in 2012 after a confrontation with the unarmed teenager in Sanford. The outcomes of two federal probes tied to the fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson last year are still pending. “I'd say that in all the cases that we do, we've conducted an independent, thorough, investigation,” Holder said, adding his department has been “very aggressive” in bringing charges when appropriate. He promised to announce the results of the Ferguson probes before he leaves.
ADVICE FOR HIS SUCCESSOR
Holder had these words of advice for his successor: “Follow your experience, follow your heart, be a student of history, be unafraid.” Holder said Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, New York, who’s waiting to be confirmed by the full U.S. Senate, has all those qualities “in spades.” “I'm going to try to leave for Loretta as little [leftover work] as I possibly can, which is why I have been as active as I've been over these last few weeks,” Holder said. “I think she's going to be a great attorney general.”