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Michelle Obama rallies Justice Dept. workers

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; 1:52 PM

Soon after her husband met with embattled Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, first lady Michelle Obama was onstage Wednesday with another general -- Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. -- as she gave a pep talk to employees at the Justice Department.

A typically buttoned-down law enforcement event it was not. Whoops and hollers rang out in the building's Great Hall as Obama -- wearing a purple dress and a broad grin -- took the stage. Hundreds of employees, who had started lining up three hours earlier, held up cellphone cameras and cheered from a balcony.

Holder departed from his prepared text to joke: "This is typical when I come down to the Great Hall." He then called Obama "the rock of our nation" and "a good friend of the United States' Department of Justice."

The first lady returned the compliments, saying Holder has been "an outstanding attorney general" and "a phenomenal support not just to the president but to me personally." Although she eschewed politics, saying the department does not serve "a particular party," her accolades reinforced Holder's personal connection with the Obamas -- something that officials say helped him when he came under criticism within the administration for his plan to put accused terrorists on trial in Manhattan.

Obama praised the department's work, saying she was there "to let you know how much that we value everything that you are doing.'' There were few allusions to specific issues or President Obama's political troubles, though Obama did cite the Justice Department's investigation of the gulf oil spill and said, "Many folks here in this agency are working tirelessly to ensure that accountability is going on.''

"These are going to be tough times. And we're going to need every one of you to buckle up and work even harder," she concluded before plunging into the crowd to shake hands. The whoops grew only louder.

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