Feb. 3, 2009— -- "It's good to be home," Eric Holder said to cheers and applause from a crowd of more than 150 Justice Department employees, as he arrived at his swearing-in ceremony this morning.
After taking the oath, administered by Vice President Joe Biden,Holder become the nation's 82nd attorney general and the first black to take the post.
But Holder is no stranger to the department.
He spent 25 years in various posts there, from lawyer with the Public Integrity Section to a U.S. attorney to federal judge to deputy attorney general under Janet Reno during the Clinton administration.
Holder inherits a department marred by allegations of political favoritism during the tenure of Alberto Gonzales and challenged for its legal guidance on issues such as torture and harsh interrogation tactics.
After his swearing-in, Holder noted his return to "the institution that formed me as a lawyer" and said there will be "a new day" for the career employees of the department.
"There shall be no place for political favoritism, no reason to be timid in enforcing the laws that protect our rights, our environment and our principles, as long as I have the opportunity to lead this great department," he said.
"This may be a break from the immediate past, but it is consistent with the long history of the Department of Justice," Holder said.
In another reference to the tumultuous times under Gonzales, who resigned in 2007 after the controversy following the firings of at least nine U.S. attorneys the year before, Holder said, "We will remake the Department of Justice into what it was and into what it always must be."
Biden also commented on the anticipated changes at the department under the Obama administration.
After reading the department's mission statement, Biden pointed out that "there's no mention in that mission statement of politics. There's no mention in that mission statement of ideology. And that's how it should be, because there is no place for politics or ideology in this building."
He praised Holder's leadership, and noting that the department "holds a special place in our democracy," he added that America needs the continued dedication of the career employees "who have been here through thick and thin."
First Black President, First Black Attorney General
Holder also spoke to the historical significance of his appointment and the election of President Obama.
"Though much ground still needs to be covered, the events of the last year signify that a new day for this nation is potentially at hand," Holder said. "Nowhere but in this great country could a person like me or the president hope to achieve the positions we are now so fortunate to hold."
Referring to his childhood in Queens, N.Y., Holder said, "The trip from East Elmhurst to DOJ is not all that improbable. And that is the wonder of America."
In a brief session with reporters after the ceremonial events, the newly minted attorney general said that he would be attending a national security briefing at the White House. Holder said one of his main missions will be "keeping the American people safe."
Before going to the White House, Holder will receive a separate security briefing from FBI and department officials, a Justice Department official said.
Asked about the turmoil in the financial markets and implosion of complex Wall Street investment structures, Holder said, "We're not going to go out on any witch hunts yet, but we'll drill down and see. My background is as a prosecutor."
The FBI's investigation into the collapse has expanded in recent months to include more than 31 major investment firms according to officials briefed on the investigation.
Holder said of corporate fraud, "We'll find it and hold people accountable."