The 5 Biggest Controversies of Eric Holder's Term as Attorney General

From Fast and Furious to the 9/11 mastermind, Holder's most-disputed moves.

— -- intro: Almost as soon as he was confirmed, it was clear that Attorney General Eric Holder’s tenure would be beset by controversy.

In February 2009, his provocative statement -- “in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards” -- roiled many.

As one of President Obama’s longest-serving and most-trusted advisers, Holder, who today announced he would step down from the post he has held for five-and-a-half years, has long been a favorite punching bag for the right.

Here’s a look at the five biggest controversies during his time at the Justice Department.

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As one of president Obama’s longest-serving and most-trusted advisers, Holder has long been a favorite punching bag for the right.

Here’s a look at the five biggest controversies during his time at the Justice Department:

He told Yahoo News this week in an interview, “I will say that if my recommendation had been followed, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his confederates would be on death row right now. Right now.”

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quicklist:2 title:MONITORING THE PRESS text:Among a number of controversies during his tenure involving journalists, Holder had to temper public anger in 2013 over the Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press phone records resulting from an AP article in May 2012.

Holder believed the article on a terrorist plot in Yemen threatened American security, and defended the Justice Department’s need to vet the AP correspondence.

Holder’s argument came just years after dropping charges against former Justice Department lawyer Thomas Tamm, who leaked details of a Bush administration wiretapping program to the New York Times. Also in 2013, Holder denied attempting to prosecute journalists after reports revealed the Justice Department was monitoring Fox News reporter James Rosen following a story he published in 2009 on Iran. media: 25756073

Holder repeatedly denied a DOJ cover-up, saying only, “This operation was flawed in concept, as well as in execution.” Bolstered by Obama’s assertion of executive privilege, which prevented future prosecution, Holder refused to turn over documents related to Fast and Furious, infuriating Congressional Republicans, who accused him of concealing administration failures. He was held in contempt of Congress in June 2012, marking the first time an attorney general has been held in criminal contempt. media: 25756744

Holder’s handling of the matter did not sit well with former Justice Department officials, who believed the actions of Obama’s attorney general were anti-democratic. A U.S. attorney general, as head of the Justice Department, is responsible for enforcing federal laws. One critic of Holder, former Virginia Solicitor General William H. Hurd said, “These are important issues, but the job of an attorney general is not to act as a judge and decide them. His job is to act as an advocate and defend the laws enacted through the democratic process.” media: 25756272

quicklist:5 title:DRUG CRIMES text:In 2013, Holder modified the Justice Department’s sentencing policy for low-level, drug-related crimes out of belief that they were discriminatory and destabilizing.

“Let’s be honest: Some of the enforcement priorities that we have set have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities ... largely poor and of color, and [have been] applied inappropriately,” Holder said in a speech.

In the past, mandatory minimum sentences were implemented to discourage drug use and reduce racially-biased sentences. Holder mandated the modification so that low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or cartels would no longer be charged with offenses that “impose draconian, mandatory” sentences, and would instead be sentenced on an individual basis. Since the modification last year, the federal prison population dropped by 4,800 ... the first time the prison population declined since 1980. media: 25757773