Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday rallied his troops at Justice Department headquarters following a barrage of Republican attacks on DOJ decisions and a period of low morale brought on by the potential for furloughs induced by a possible government shutdown.
More than 200 DOJ employees packed the Great Hall to hear Holder, greeting him with a standing ovation before he laid out his plans for the future of the Department in a speech broadcast to staffers across the country.
As top DOJ officials looked on, Holder said the DOJ will renew its efforts to fight violent crime and stop financial fraud and recommit itself to the defense of civil rights and protection of national security — two issues that have fueled some of the strongest Republican criticism of the Department.
The Attorney General said he is proud of the effort Department employees have put into addressing the priorities of the DOJ, noting that their work has had its challenges. Holder also applauded staffers for admitting mistakes when they are made and acting at once to fix them.
“Department of Justice employees face some of the most challenging circumstances and complex issues in government,” Holder said. “And your work has never been more difficult.”
As the DOJ has worked to address priorities, Holder has drawn the ire of Republicans over his support for using civilian courts to try some terrorism suspects and the decision to drop most of the charges in a civil lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party in 2009.
Republicans have grilled Holder about their worries in hearings, sent him letters about their concerns with the DOJ under his leadership and fired off statements expressing their discontent with Department decisions.
Holder announced this month that self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices would be tried in a military commission, scrapping his initial plan to try them in a civilian court. He blasted Congress in his announcement, saying the legislative branch left him no alternative but to proceed with prosecutions in military commission.
Republicans and some Democrats welcomed the decision. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a leading critic of Obama administration positions on terrorism matters, said after the announcement that Holder has a “moral obligation” to resign if he has strong opposition to using military commission.
But King wasn’t the first Republican to suggest his resignation.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Holder should step down after a federal jury in November acquitted Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on all but one count in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Former Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin also have called for the Attorney General’s resignation over his handling of terrorism cases, including the decision to criminally charge Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for allegedly trying to bomb an airplane on Christmas Day 2009.
The Attorney General on Monday said the DOJ will use “every available resource and appropriate tool” to fight terrorism.
“And let me be very clear about this: we will continue to rely on our most powerful and most proven tool in bringing terrorists to justice – our federal court system,” Holder said.
The DOJ’s handling of case against members of the New Black Panther Party also has created tension between Holder and Republicans. The members of the anti-white fringe group allegedly intimidated voters by wearing military-style clothing outside a polling place in a black Philadelphia neighborhood during the November 2008 election. One of the men held a nightstick.
For most of the past two years, the conservative-led U.S. Commission on Civil Rights investigated the DOJ’s handling of the case. The commission said in a report on its probe that the DOJ failed to adequately address “serious accusations” made by former DOJ Civil Rights Division staffer J. Christian Adams and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Coates, the former chief of the Civil Rights Division Voting Section, about opposition in the DOJ to taking up voting rights cases against minorities.
In March, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) prodded Holder about the case at a House hearing, claiming that the Attorney General allows reverse racism to flourish in the DOJ Civil Rights Division. A testy Holder vehemently denied the claim.
“[W]e will enforce our civil rights laws to guarantee that – in our workplaces and military bases; in our housing and lending markets; in voting booths, in border areas, and in boardrooms; in schools and in places of worship – all Americans are protected,” Holder said on Monday.