Against Attorney General Eric Holder, GOP Is Fast and Furious

The attorney general is a punching bag along with Gonzales, Ashcroft and Reno.

ByABC News
June 13, 2012, 6:07 PM

June 14, 2012 -- Eric Holder's testy testimony to Congress this week has underscored just how precarious it is to be the U.S. attorney general.

It's also shown that the White House may stand to be embarrassed simply by the GOP's victimization of President Obama's top law enforcer.

Attorneys general in the modern era have become punching bags. Alberto Gonzales tainted George W. Bush's administration over the firing of U.S. attorneys; before him, John Ashcroft invited a fiery debate over privacy in a time of caution over terrorism; and in the Clinton White House, Janet Reno angered critics with her handling of the Ruby Ridge shooting, the Waco siege and investigating campaign finance violations.

Holder has drawn flack over a variety of issues, most heatedly the controversial "Fast & Furious" program that sent weapons into Mexico and are believed to be connected to crime, including the murder of an American border patrol agent.

At a hearing on Tuesday, John Cornyn, a top Republican in the Senate, told Holder to resign, citing the bungled gun operation and leaks of national security information. Cornyn said Americans need an attorney general "who will uphold the basic standards of political independence and accountability."

"You have proven time and time again, sadly, that you're unwilling to do so," he said. Holder said he wouldn't be resigning, and the White House says Obama is confident in him.

Cornyn is also the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP's political arm in the Senate that works to elect Republicans to the upper chamber. There's little question that Republicans want to use the demonization of Holder as a political issue — the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, said last year that Fast & Furious would be a campaign theme.

Calling for Holder's resignation is something of a rallying cry in the GOP. The candidates seeking the party's nomination in the primary said Holder had to go; the RNC has tried to raise money off of Fast & Furious and later told visitors to its website, "Fire Eric Holder today!"

Darrell Issa, a Republican congressman who has headed efforts to investigate the Obama administration, has accused Holder of covering up information about Fast & Furious and has threatened to slap a contempt of Congress ruling against the AG because the Justice Department hasn't released documents about the operation that were congressionally subpoenaed.

Issa, however, hasn't always favored the release of documents. In 2007, when Gonzales was under scrutiny over the firing of U.S. attorneys, Issa told a local news outlet that the administration shouldn't have released documents related to the case. Issa argued that the attorneys were "at will" employees whose firing didn't need explaining to the public.

Asked to explain the discrepancy, Issa's press secretary, Becca Watkins, said that the Bush administration used executive privilege in Gonzales's case, while Obama hasn't done so. She didn't respond to further requests for an explanation.

Pressure built in both houses of Congress for Gonzales to resign, and the possibility of impeachment arose as critics questioned whether he had lied to Congress. Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor who called for Gonzales's impeachment, said the scope his case was far greater than in Holder's, which involves an operation several levels below his direct knowledge. (Reached by phone, Gonzales said, "No, I'm not going to comment on it.")

"To me this seems much more political and much less substantive than anything that was involved in the concerns over the previous administration," said Bowman, a Democrat.

Nonetheless, Holder has become a more recognizable face not because of his laurels but instead because of Republicans' accusations. To resign because lawmakers from the opposing party ask for it would be remarkable. The other goal that the GOP achieves in its vilifying of Holder is that it gins up supporters in an election season.

"It is deeply undesirable to be having senior senators in one party calling for contempt citations and the like against a department head," Bowman said, "when it's perfectly clear to anybody who's not really partisan that all you have here is mismanagement of a law enforcement operation multiple levels below the attorney general's operational control."