Holder says he is undecided on whether to stay on as attorney general

November 8, 2012

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told a group of law students Thursday that he has not decided whether he will remain for President Obama’s second term.

Speaking at the University of Baltimore School of Law, Holder said that he still has to have a conversation with the president and with his wife before he makes a decision.

“That’s something that I’m in the process now of trying to determine,” Holder said. “I will have to think about, ‘Can I contribute in a second term?’ ” he added. “I have to sit down, obviously, to talk to [the president], speak to members of my family, particularly one who I’m married to.

“I really ask myself the question, do I think that there are things that I still want to do? Do I have some gas left in the tank?”

What is so far anticipated to be a low-key and limited second-term transition contrasts sharply with that of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Two days after his reelection in November 2004, Bush went to Camp David with his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., and national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Bush said he was going to “begin the process” of thinking about his Cabinet and staff. The following week, the White House announced six Cabinet departures, including those of Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was given five days to write his resignation letter.

Obama administration insiders say the process is expected to be slower, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has indicated she will remain until a successor is confirmed.

Holder, the first African American attorney general, was a former judge, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration before Obama chose him as his attorney general.

Associates said privately that Holder has not made up his mind and that his decision will depend on his conversation with Obama, a close friend.

From the beginning of his tenure, Holder was a lightning rod for Republicans, who challenged him over voter-identification laws, same-sex marriage, comments he made on race relations and his handling of the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But his longest-running controversy was Fast and Furious, the botched gun operation overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Justice Department inspector general found no wrongdoing on Holder’s part, but House Republicans had already voted to hold him in contempt of Congress for not turning over certain documents.

After the contempt vote, Holder said he would not step down.

On Thursday, he did not sound so sure when the dean of the law school, Ron Weich, interviewed Holder after his speech. Weich, Holder’s former assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, asked, “What’s your plan?”

“It has been an interesting and tough four years,” Holder said. “I really just don’t know. I don’t know at this point.”

Holder appeared relaxed and bantered with Weich. At one point, there was a reference to Cal Ripken Jr., the legendary Baltimore Oriole who played a record 2,632 games in a row.

“I’d like to see him do eight years as attorney general,” Holder joked.

Some of the names mentioned by administration sources as a potential attorney general if Holder steps down include Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick.

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years. Follow her @SariHorwitz.
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