A new book by a journalist long close to Eric Holder details the pressures the attorney general was under from critics both within the administration and from the political right, portraying him as depressed and close to quitting at one point, according to news accounts.
Holder is painted as struggling to stay afloat as public pressure mounted over controversies like the failed attempt to prosecute 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York. ”Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency,” is written by former Newsweek managing editor Daniel Klaidman, and it details how the Barack Obama administration has handled the war on terror.
The late writer Christopher Hitchens helped to convince Holder to investigate U.S. interrogation tactics of suspected terrorists, according to the Daily Beast. In a 2008 piece in Vanity Fair, Hitchens wrote about allowing himself to be water-boarded during a staged abduction exercise. The article included a video of Hitchens undergoing the interrogation technique, which both Holder and Obama had likened to torture. “Watching the video,” Klaidman writes, “Holder was both mesmerized and repulsed.”
In one section, Klaidman writes about how Holder’s “sense of isolation within the administration had turned his job into a grind,” as he thought about quitting in the fall of 2010.
“He woke up on many mornings with a knot in his stomach, not sure if he’s be able to make it through the day . . . He told [his wife] Sharon [Malone] he didn’t know if he had the emotional strength to go on as attorney general,” the book states. “He thought seriously about returning to his Washington law firm,” Covington & Burling LLP.
It was White House adviser Valerie Jarrett who changed Holder’s mind, convincing him to stay on.
“Few people could talk to Holder as directly as Jarrett could,” the Klaidman writes.
“She started by gently telling him, ‘You’re my friend and I care about you. … This will not be good for you and it will not be good for your friend, the president’ … Jarrett didn’t elaborate, but she didn’t have to. Holder understood that if he quit barely two years into Obama’s first term, it would be widely assumed that he was either driven out by Tammany Hall or that he’d quit because he was disillusioned with the administration’s refusal to back him up,” Klaidman writes.
If Holder left, it would be a “rallying cry for the liberal base of the party” and ultimately hurt Obama’s campaign.
Jarrett also broke up a fight between Holder and Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod after a Cabinet meeting. After word spread from Holder aides that they believed the White House was attempting to place a political operative named Chris Sautter within the Justice Department, Axelrod confronted the attorney general. Axelrod had been careful to “not to come close to that line,” knowing such a move could “detonate a full-blown scandal.”
“‘I’m not Karl Rove,’ ” Axelrod said to Holder, a reference to the 2006 scandal over the firings of U.S. Attorneys that Democrats called politically motivated.
“Holder did not appreciate being publicly dressed down by the president’s most senior political adviser. Determined to stand his ground against Tammany Hall, the AG ripped into him in full view of other White House staffers.,” Kladiman writes.
It continues: ” ‘That’s bullshit,’ [Holder] replied vehemently. The two men stood chest to chest. It was like a school yard fight back at their shared alma mater, Stuyvesant, the elite public high school for striving kids from New York City. White House staffers caught in the crossfire averted their eyes. Jarrett, whose office was nearby, materialized as things got hot. Petite and perfectly put together as always, she pushed her way between the two men, her sense of decorum disturbed, ordering them to ‘take it out of the hallway.’”
Holder’s legendary tension with former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is also described. Emanuel thought Jarrett was Holder’s spy within the White House, Klaidman writes. In one meeting in which Emanuel criticized Holder, Emanuel “noticed Jarrett pick up her BlackBerry and begin typing. Later, when Holder was at the White House on other business, he went to see Emanuel in his office. He closed the door behind him and laid into the chief of staff for criticizing him in front of White House staff,” Mike Allen reported in Playbook.
The attorney general’s close personal relationship with the president caused jealousy among many within the White House as well, one of Obama’s other cabinet-level advisers told Klaidman
“Of all the 12 cabinet members, why does the boss like Eric the most? We should all throw him in a pit and kick him,” the staffer told Klaidman sarcastically, according to a report in The Daily Beast.