Close confidants of Attorney General Eric Holder slammed former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for the political pressure he put on the Justice Department’s top official, GQ Magazine reported in its December issue.
Steve Sims, Holder’s friend, and Billy Holder, the Attorney General’s brother, expressed frustration with Emanuel, who left the White House earlier this year. The former Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama often butted heads with the Attorney General over national security issues. Former White House counsel Greg Craig said in September that Holder “survived” if Emanuel left, adding that “they were after [the Attorney General].”
“They need to shut the f*ck up and let him do his job!” Sims told GQ. “He is not a political animal!”
Holder’s brother added about Emanuel: “That guy’s an animal. He’s a beast.”
A major point of contention between the Attorney General and the former White House Chief of Staff was Holder’s initial plans to try self-described Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his alleged accomplices in a Manhattan federal court as part of Obama’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
The Obama administration faced pressure from Republicans and Democrats to scrap the arrangement and find a new venue, possibly a military commission. They raised concerns about security costs, the possibility that the defendants would be found not guilty in a civilian court and the specter of terrorism suspects using the federal courtroom as a place to deliver propaganda.
The White House is now considering the use of military tribunals for the prosecutions and reviewing other places for a civilian trial. Holder said on Wednesday that the government is “close to a decision” on the venue for the prosecutions.
Emanuel didn’t necessarily oppose using civilian courts, but he wanted a venue where prosecutors would win convictions and help Obama politically, individuals familiar with the former White House staffer’s thinking told GQ.
“If there’s political pressure against it, why not try the case in a military commission? Politically there was no upside to keeping it in civilian court,” an individual familiar with discussion on the prosecutions told the magazine. “There was only downside. Rahm’s position was, ‘We’re going to lose [Republican Senator] Lindsey [Graham of South Carolina], and then we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s gonna be Eric’s fault.’ Everything is personal with Rahm.”
Former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, who resigned in February, told GQ that putting the decision on the venue for the prosecutions in the hands of the president is “wildly unfortunate.”
“The president gave that decision to the attorney general,” Ogden told the magazine. “The Attorney General made it. Then the White House had to deal with a political reality in Congress. And the situation was assessed as being politically untenable.”
Holder said the United States must stand for the rule of law even when it is politically challenging to bring a case.
“There is an important principle at stake here: You don’t shy away from using this great system for political reasons,” the Attorney General told GQ.