Capehart: Good morning, sir.
Holder: Hey. 45 minutes starts now. Let’s go.
Capehart: Yeah, and it’s going to start any second now. But hey, everyone. I’m Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for The Washington Post and host of the podcast Cape Up Live. Welcome to our first ever Cape Up Live event with the executive producer of the forthcoming CBS show Main Justice. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] Author of the forthcoming book Pursuing Justice, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, and the 82nd attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder. [APPLAUSE]
Holder: Thank you, thank you.
Capehart: Now, before we begin, some disclosures. Today’s event is life coming full circle. You see, the idea for Cape Up was born in October 2014 when I interviewed Eric at the Washington Ideas Forum. So 18 months, 73 guests, and one wedding later—mine, which you officiated. I am thrilled to welcome you to the podcast.
Holder: All right. It’s good to be here.
Capehart: And you here in the audience and watching online can be a part of it by tweeting your questions to us using the #CapeUp. I’ll pose some of those questions during our conversation, but right now, let’s get started. So Eric, how have you been?
Holder: I’ve been fine. [LAUGHTER] Well, ask me that question at the conclusion of this interaction. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: So President Trump has been tweeting. I double checked before I came out here to see if there was anything more, but he’s been tweeting about the Mueller probe since 6:59 a.m. Three tweets culminating in one at 7:49 a.m. that simply read, “WITCH HUNT!,” all caps, exclamation point. Given that, how do you interpret the moves by Mueller of late? We’ve got 100 charges, 19 people indicted, three companies. What’s going on?
Holder: I think there are three strains to the investigation. One, conspiracy, not collusion. There is no such thing as collusion, so a question of conspiracy. There’s another one with regard to obstruction, and then I think one that is necessary to understand everything—what I would call the context line that deals with the Trump Organization’s interactions with Russians before he was president, and I think that’s the one that potentially could lead to something catastrophic by Trump with regards to Bob Mueller’s continued presence in the office.
Capehart: And catastrophic, you mean firing?
Holder: Yeah, potentially he could do something like that.
Capehart: Do you think he would be gutsy enough to do it himself or would he have his own Saturday Night Massacre and have someone at DOJ be the bad guy?
Holder: I mean, if you want to do it in a linear fashion, you’d have to go through the Justice Department, but it’s hard for me to imagine Rod Rosenstein, who I’ve known for 20, 25 years, agreeing to do that. I guess the solicitor general would be next since the associate attorney general has now pulled herself out. It’s hard for me to see how you’re going to get that through the Justice Department, but there are potentially, I think, other ways in which it might be accomplished. I don’t necessarily want to share them.
Capehart: I was about to say, such as? [LAUGHTER]
Holder: Well, I think the president could—I think could really just suspend or do away with the regulation that’s set up; the special counsel’s office. He potentially has that power as the head of the executive branch.
Capehart: From where you’ve sat and where you sit now, has President Trump obstructed justice?
Holder: I think that you can make a pretty good technical case. If you look at the Lester Holt interview, if you look at the requests that he made to the intelligence heads to talk to Comey about how he should deal with certain witnesses. If you look at what happened on the airplane with the formulation of that statement. I think you’ve probably got a technical case. I’m not at all certain that at this point you have a case that you would want to bring to court, and my guess is that Bob Mueller is in the process of putting together as strong a case as he possibly can. People have to understand: this is an investigation that’s in its relatively early stages. They’ve been really kind of moving at light speed. From my perspective, this is about an 18-month to 24-month investigation if you’re just looking at something done at a normal pace.
And this thing is less than a year old and there has been a pretty substantial amount done by Mueller.
Capehart: Yeah, I was about to ask you: is Mueller just getting started or are we nearing the end of his work? Where is he? Given what you just said and my question.
Holder: Well, only they know. Who knows what they have, what people who have been indicted are sharing with them. I don’t know.
Capehart: What signal did it send, do you think, the indictments a week ago Friday of the 13 Russians?
Holder: I think that’s very significant because I think if you’re looking at a portrait, one-half of that portrait was painted. You can no longer say that this is a witch hunt or that this doesn’t exist. You’ve got specific people, you’ve got three other entities, you’ve got real facts, dates, times. So we know that it happened. Now, the question is who might have been involved with it and I think that’s the other part of the portrait that has to be painted.
Capehart: Is there anything that—
Holder: On the American side, I mean, might have been involved.
Capehart: Is there anything that you’re anticipating Mueller doing that would be a signal to you that he is nearing the end of the investigation?
Holder: Well, in some ways, I think Manafort is obvious. If there is a deal struck there, then I think you’re getting close to some kind of culminating event. But there could be other ways in which you get to the end. But Manafort, at least at this point, seems relatively obvious.
Capehart: One thing that was surprising to me in the reindictment of Gates was that he lied to the investigators earlier this month. [LAUGHTER] Can you explain that to me?
Capehart: And why would—
Holder: I’ve been a lawyer since 1976; don’t do the calculations for me. And I’ve never heard anything like that before. You come in for a proffer, “queen for a day,” as it’s called and don’t share the truth, which is totally inconsistent with every proceeding that I’ve done in that regard and every proceeding that I’ve heard about.
Capehart: In “queen for a day,” you’re allowed to go there and unburden yourself without fear of—
Holder: If you were queen for a day, you would want to go in there and say, “Look, I was responsible for the death of Jimmy Hoffa, the disappearance of Judge Crater. I mean, you want to put everything out there.
Capehart: Tupac and Biggie. [LAUGHTER]
Holder: Don’t kid about Tupac and Biggie. [LAUGHTER] There’s kind of some things that are holy. Let’s not go there.
Capehart: I interrupted you—
Holder: You’re making me emotional, man. Huh? What? [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: I interrupted you—queen for a day.
Holder: Yeah, queen for a day, the purpose of which is to allow you to share information with the prosecutor and everything that you say cannot be used against you so you want to pile into that as much truthful information as you possibly can to make it difficult, quite frankly, for the prosecutor to get at you. Because they then have to prove that anything that they got did not come from that which you shared and to go and not tell the truth, again, is inconsistent with anything I’ve ever seen in my time as a lawyer.
Capehart: So over the weekend, I sent out a tweet to my followers, saying that we were going to be sitting down and if they had any questions, to tweet back at me some questions, and I got one from @Mom2Ian and this person tweeted, “Would he kindly explain if/how a sitting president can be indicted? What would that look like?”
Holder: Yeah, it’s interesting. There are opinions in the Justice Department that indicate you cannot indict a sitting president; that the president has to first be removed from office through the impeachment process. I’ve looked at those opinions and I think that—I’m not at all certain. The Supreme Court has never ruled on that question. And I’m not at all certain that as I look back at those opinions, that I have as much confidence in them as I once did because I think it presumes a couple of things. It presumes that there is going to be a Congress that will, in the face of misconduct by the president, take action to remove him from office to allow the indictment to occur, and it also talks about the paralysis that would occur in the executive branch by having the president indicted. And I don’t think that necessarily takes into account the 25th Amendment, which if you had an indicted president and the cabinet decided that he was unable to perform his duties, he could be temporarily removed. And so I think on the basis of those two factors, I’m not at all certain that a sitting president could not be indicted.
Capehart: What impact would a pardon of Manafort by Trump have on the Mueller investigation?
Holder: Well, it would certainly relieve Manafort of any concern that he could be indicted on a substantive offense, but it would not relieve him of the obligation to testify truthfully in any kind of interaction that he would have with Mueller, be it an interview or a testimony before a grand jury. If he were pardoned, his 5th Amendment privilege would be fully vindicated and so Mueller would have the opportunity then to put him in front of a grand jury, interview him, and ask him all of the questions that he wanted to ask him, and if Manafort lied, he could still then be indicted and we have seen that Bob Mueller is not shy about indicting people for not telling the truth.
Capehart: [LAUGHTER] On December 17th of last year, you tweeted, “Absolute RED LINE,” all caps, “The firing of Bob Mueller or crippling the special counsel’s office, if removed or meaningfully tampered with, there must be mass popular peaceful support of both. The American people must be seen and heard. They will ultimately be determinative.” This was when the rumors were rampant in Washington that any minute now, back then, President Trump was going to fire Bob Mueller. If that were to happen now—do you stand by this tweet? People should flood the streets to protest—
Capehart: Would that be an abuse of power?
Holder: That would be a total abuse of power and I would think it would be an impeachable offense to remove the person who is investigating you for any reason other than cause, I think is simply unacceptable. And the American people, I think, cannot allow that to occur. Our voices need to be heard if that occurs. And as I said, peaceful protests. But I was thinking along the lines of the Women’s March the day after the inauguration. We need to have something like that; maybe about 10 times the size of that so that people in Congress understand that this is something that the American people have deemed unacceptable and require them to act.
Capehart: Well, there is a march that’s coming next month; March 24th. The kids of Parkland, Florida who have been really incredible about changing the debate on guns in this country. Have you been surprised by just their activism and their response to the mass shooting in their school?
Holder: I’ve got to tell you that it’s a tragedy and I feel for those parents for the loss of life there. But I’ve also been heartened by the response of those young people. My daughter tweeted—
Capehart: You always retweet her. She’s brilliant.
Holder: Yeah, she’s got better tweets than me and she made a point that I thought was pretty interesting. She said that after Sandy Hook, you had first graders and those who survived didn’t have voices. They were little kids. But when you have a massacre that happens in a high school, you’re talking about 16, 17-year-old’s, these are kids with voices, the survivors. And they are the ones who are leading this effort in a way that the Sandy Hook kinds could not. So they will stay in the consciousness of this nation. My hope is—this is February and that they’re out there. My hope is that they’ll be there in May and in June and in July and in August and in September. I hope that they’ll stay focused and I hope that their advocacy will move this nation—well, actually, not move this nation, because the nation is in the appropriate place; move the leadership of this nation to a place where the American people already are.
Capehart: How confident are you that they will be successful in moving the leadership to be where the American people are?
Holder: I can’t say that I’m very, very confident. If the reaction is to what happened in Florida, we’re going to ban bump stocks. We were going to do that after what happened in Nevada. We’re going to raise the age that you can buy an AR-15 from 18 to 21. That, from my perspective, is not consistent with what should be a responsible reaction, which should be to ban AR-15s, to ban high-capacity magazines. [APPLAUSE] To expand our background check system in a way that the American people overwhelmingly support. I mean, 80, 90% of the American people say we should have universal background checks, about two-thirds say we should ban AR-15s. But we have a gun lobby and gerrymandered districts that allow our representatives in Congress to do things that are inconsistent with the people they represent.
Capehart: Would you have run into gunfire without a weapon if you were president? [LAUGHTER]
Holder: Would I have what? [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Would you have run into gunfire without a weapon if you were president?
Holder: I’m from Queens, he’s from Queens, and that’s about where the similarities end. That statement reflects, in some ways, all that’s wrong with this president. To say something like that is inconsistent with his history. I looked at what Joy Reid said. It was interesting. She tweeted something and said that, “He says he would run into this school where live ammunition was being shot without a gun, but he wouldn’t go to Vietnam when they would have given him a gun.” And so that’s just one of those weird Trump things that I just chalk up to he had a bad day; he got up too early. I don’t know. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Well, speaking of President Trump, let’s talk about the independence of the Justice Department and during an interview with The New York Times in December, the president—
Holder: You always do all this research.
Capehart: It’s my job.
Holder: But then I’ve got to try to be consistent.
Capehart: Don’t worry about being consistent. So during an interview in December with The New York Times, President Trump once again bemoaned the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Mueller-Russia investigation. And when he was asked if he thought you were more loyal to President Obama, Trump said quote, “I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that—I will say this: Holder protected President Obama; totally protected him.” Last month, the president reportedly invoked your name again during an angry Oval Office meeting, where he asked quote, “Where is my Roy Cohn?” Did you not protect President Obama or does President Trump have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the attorney general?
Holder: That would be the latter. He’s got a fundamental misunderstanding of both the role of the attorney general and the role that I played in the Obama Administration. There’s kind of a basic problem there: I didn’t have to protect Barack Obama, okay? [APPLAUSE] His campaign wasn’t colluding with the Russians, we didn’t have to worry about obstruction of justice. And the other thing is that President Obama understood that the best Justice Departments are those that are independent of the White House. He’s a lot of things, Barack Obama is, but he’s also a good lawyer and he’s also a student of history and understands that those Justice Departments that get too close to the White House are the Justice Departments that get into trouble; the attorney generals who get into trouble.
And so the notion that I would be compared to somebody as odious as Roy Cohn—on the other hand, I did like the comparison to Bobby Kennedy. That was okay. [LAUGHTER] But as I said, there was no need for me—
Capehart: Do you think the president is operating as a president or more as the head of—I’m just going to say it: a crime family. [LAUGHTER] As in the Godfather. [APPLAUSE]
Holder: Well, I’m not going to go there.
Capehart: Oh, come on.
Holder: I think there is in some ways, a lack of understanding about the ways in which government had traditionally and appropriately operated; the breaking through of norms. Forget about laws and what Bob Mueller finds, but breaking through of norms that this president has done, I think, reflects that fundamental lack of understanding and there is a danger there, that things that have been built up over centuries are being flouted by this president. And I get concerned that what’s the impact of this going to be when Trump is ultimately gone? Does that mean that those norms have been destroyed? Or do we somehow find our way back to them? Because a lot of the appropriate functioning of government is determined not by laws, statutes, and regulations, but just by norms and expectations that people have.
Capehart: Speaking of norms, there was the fight that President Trump got into with Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida, and in that fight, President Trump criticized President Obama for what he said the president not calling families of the fallen. And on October 16th, 2017, you tweeted, “Stop the damn lying. You’re the president. I went to Dover Air Force Base with 44 and saw him comfort the families of both the fallen military and DEA.” And with that tweet, there was a picture of you and President Obama with four soldiers, all of you saluting. “Stop the damn lying.”
Holder: Yeah, that one really got me. The notion that Barack Obama was anything other than sympathetic to, empathetic with, didn’t care about those who had fallen in service to the country; that really struck a nerve with me and I remember that incident and I tried to find that picture when we went to Dover. And I remember seeing him—there was a group of family members, survivors, and he was by himself in a room. And I remember looking at this slender guy and thinking that he had to somehow comfort all of these people in the next room and then standing on the plane as they brought the caskets off. It was cold and I saw that repeated over the years and for him to say what he said about President Obama at that time was just something, again—that was as emotional a tweet as I think as I’ve ever done.
Capehart: Let’s talk about Congress because you mentioned Congress a moment ago. Have you given up on Congress fulfilling its constitutional duty to be a check on the Executive?
Holder: I think as long as you have the present Congress that we have, I don’t. I keep thinking that we’ll get to a point where he’ll go too far, and they will get activated and understand they do have a—they are a co-equal branch of government, but I can’t say that I’m particularly optimistic when you see the things that Devin Nunes has done, when you see the lack of activity by the oversight committees. They called me up to talk about fast and furious 10 times, and that was something that I had little or nothing to do; I stopped it and all that. Held me in contempt. And I think about all of the things that have been going on in this administration. Not only with regard to the president, but with regard to cabinet secretaries. And this Congress has really just said, “It is what it is.”
Capehart: How shocked were you by the Nunes memo and the Schiff memo and just the fact that we have a Nunes and Schiff memos to be discussing?
Holder: That’s pretty scary. There are things that happen in an intelligence capacity that are not to be shared. You don’t want to potentially reveal sources and methods and if you are a person who could help the United States or a foreign intelligence agency that could help the United States, you now have to dial in to that equation, that calculus; “Well, if I share information with the United States, am I going to end up in a memo that some head of an intelligence committee is going to share?” So I think there’s a long-term potential negative impact to what Devin Nunes did. I think what Adam Schiff did was necessary to kind of correct the record; the incorrect record that Nunes tried to pain.
Capehart: A week ago today, you tweeted: “Russian threat to our upcoming elections: Do something, do anything. Impose sanctions overwhelmingly approved by even this dysfunctional Congress. Are you simply unfit without the necessary nerve or do they have something on you? We were attacked.” I forgot to put in my notes who this was directed. I don’t know whether it was to the president or Congress, but either way, you are hurling thunder at inaction at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Holder: Yeah, I mean, this country was attacked. It was electronically attacked, it was hacked. The most basic part of who we are as Americans, our electoral system was attacked and what have we done to prepare ourselves for what will be an inevitable attack in this year, 2018; 2020. There will be off-year elections in 2019; what have we done? They have done absolutely nothing, and this is something that you think a joint committee would be looking at. There would be executive action, there would be new regulations, there would be money spent. We try to anticipate what the Russians did. There are sanctions that this Congress passed; this dysfunctional Congress passed overwhelmingly that this president has made the determination he’s not going to impose. This is absurd. This is absurd. This is a dereliction of duty. [APPLAUSE] This is Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor and saying, “Well, okay. Take it easy. We got this,” and not doing anything. It’s George W. Bush after 9-11 doing nothing. We were attacked. We were attacked and it is responsible, it is incumbent upon both Congress and the people in the executive branch to do something; they have done nothing.
Capehart: So it’s incumbent upon Congress to do something and they haven’t done anything and one of the ways to get Congress to do something is to change Congress with the midterm elections coming up in ‘18 and I want to talk about your work as chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. It has four pillars: legal action, mobilizing grassroots, supporting reforms, and winning targeted elections. Yesterday, I believe, the group filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin. I think this falls under legal action. Talk about what you’re doing in Wisconsin.
Holder: Well, with regard to the lawsuit that was filed by the foundation that is a part of the NDRC; Governor Walker—there are two people: a state assemblyman and a state senator left their positions to join his administration. Under the applicable regulations in Wisconsin, you’re supposed to fill those seats as soon as is practical, as soon as is possible. And he has made or indicated he wasn’t going to fill these things until 2019. And so people in those districts would have been unrepresented over the course of the next year and we made the determination that we would sue on their behalf to tell him to do his job, which is to hold a special election. And I’m not looking for a particular result. I’m just saying, “Look, hold the election. Do what you’re supposed to do.” And that’s what the NDRC is really all about: to try to inject fairness into our electoral system, which has become titled by gerrymandering, by huge amounts of unregulated money that go into the system. I think that if we have a fair system where Democrats are competing fairly against Republicans, where progressive ideas are being compared to conservative ideas, that progressives and Democrats will do just fine. But the elections have to be fair.
Capehart: Pennsylvania, you filed a motion to intervene to protect the court drawing a congressional map in Pennsylvania. Talk about what’s happening there.
Holder: Well, this is pretty amazing. So Pennsylvania is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. They have a congressional delegation that is now 13 Republicans, five Democrats, although it is about a 50-50 state. The suit was brought to say that that was unfair gerrymandering. The court found that, in fact, it was true, gave the legislature an opportunity to redraw the lines, they came up with a map that the court said was unacceptable and the court drew its own map. And what was the reaction of the Republicans in Pennsylvania? They decided they wanted to try to impeach the judges and so they have now filed a lawsuit to overturn that, which the court has done. We have intervened there to try to defend the court and also, to defend the process. Again, to simply have a fair map system in place in Pennsylvania, as we have tried to ensure in other parts of the county.
Capehart: Now, some of the analysts say that Democrats, as a result of these redrawn districts, that Democrats could pick up three-to-five new congressional seats in 2018. That’s what it says on paper, but if people don’t go out and vote, that’s not going to happen. One of the pillars of the NDRC is to win targeted elections.
Capehart: So how do you determine which races to target and why?
Holder: Well, we look at the electoral system through a redistricting lens to try to make determinations about where we can ensure that when 2021 comes around and we have to redistrict as we have to do after every census, to make sure that what happened in 2011 doesn’t happen in 2021; that lines are drawn in a fair way. And so we look at in each state who are the people who are most responsible for drawing those lines in 2021? Governors always matter, state senators always matter. But in certain states, you go further down the ballot. In Ohio, the secretary of state, the state auditors are important. In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court will matter and that’s why I’m going to go to Wisconsin in March to campaign for an open Supreme Court seat there.
We’re making determinations about where you see the greatest amount of partisan gerrymandering and then support those candidates who are in those critical positions and who will be in place in 2021, which is why we supported Ralph Northam in Virginia last year, who said that he would not sign a bill that redistricted in Virginia in 2021 unless it came from an impartial commission.
Capehart: Democrats seem to be late to this part, focusing on—
Holder: We were 10 years ago; we ain’t late this time. We ain’t late this time. [APPLAUSE] We’re here, we’re going to be heard, we’re going to be effective, and we’re going to have an impact on what happens with regard to the Census in 2020, which is critical, and then what happens in redistricting in 2021. We were asleep at the wheel in 2011. We didn’t do that, which we should have done. Not only for the party, but for this country. This nation is, I think, an exceptional one because of the way in which we allow the people of this nation to choose the path that the nation should be on, and gerrymandering takes that away from the people. It allows politicians to pick their voters instead of letting citizens pick their representatives.
Capehart: So being asleep at the wheel in terms of Democrats, but right now, the Democratic Party is in this fight with itself between the progressive wing of the party and the so-called establishment wing of the party. Do you think that kind of fight; basically, a rehash of Hillary versus Bernie will be detrimental to the party or can the party get over that fight?
Holder: I think that kind of discussion is a healthy one, but Democrats have to understand that the differences between the progressive part of the party and the establishment part of the party, using your terms—are really not that significant when you compare the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. And you see where they want to take the nation. So let’s have that conversation, let’s figure out the specifics of particular policies, but not lose sight of what the ultimate goal is, which is to make sure that progressive, democratic ideas, that I think address 21st-century problems, but are rooted in a great democratic past; that those are triumphant and that come 2020—we’ll actually start in 2018 with the House and the Senate and 2020 with regard to the House and the Senate and the presidency, and at the state level as well, that we have more progressives, we have more Democrats in place.
So that we have policies in place that better reflect the will of the American people. I think the American people are really kind of lined up, if you go kind of issue-by-issue, more with the Democratic Party than they are with the Republican Party.
Capehart: You mentioned earlier the Census, and that is something that NDRC is very concerned about. It’s the lack of funding that you’re concerned about. You wrote an op-ed piece about this and you mentioned, “lack of funding and the question of citizenship.”
Capehart: I can understand lack of funding, but what’s wrong with the question of citizenship on the Census?
Holder: Well, the Justice Department and the Justice Management Division of the United States Department of Justice wrote to the Department of Commerce; not the voting section of the Civil Rights Division, which was the section that has responsibility for the Census—and said that you should include in the Census a question about, “Are you a citizen—citizenship.” Which has not occurred since 1950, in which I think is designed to discourage people who are not citizens from raising their hands and being counted or citizens who are of recent immigrant background, from participating in the Census to try to undercount people in those communities. If you look at the Constitution, which says that you have to have a census every 10 years, it talks about counting people, counting inhabitants. It doesn’t say counting citizens. So if the Justice Department is successful in including this question in the Census. And I think Congress has to decide by April 1st, that will be the next lawsuit that the NDRC brings. [APPLAUSE]
Capehart: Now, in 2020, you could do something to do be a part of the solution of the things you’ve been talking about. Earlier this month, Rachel Maddow asked you, quote “Would you make a better president?” Last year; this interview was last year. “Any one of my kids would be a better president than Donald Trump.” You went on to say, “I will make a decision at the end of the year”—this year—” with regard to higher office.” My question, though, is what does Dr. Malone think of all of this talk?
Holder: Well, she’s sitting right here. Let’s just say that she has not been convinced yet that that would be a good thing to do for us, for our family.
Capehart: Understood. We’ll take that and put it over to the side for a moment just to entertain this for a little bit. Because you have been asked this question a couple of times, and as you said, “I will make a decision.”
Capehart: Why do you feel at least a flicker in the belly to even think about running for president?
Holder: Well, because I care a great deal about this country. I’ve spent the vast majority of my professional life in public service. I think I’ve got ideas that I hope would resonate with the American people. I think I’ve got the guts to potentially do the things that I think the next president would have to do. This is not a time to be half-stepping; this is a time to deal with a changing America. An America that will be wounded by the experience that we are presently going through. So it is all of those things. It doesn’t mean that ultimately, I’m going to do it. I’m certainly going to be involved in what happens in 2020. But I care about this country. I care about the way in which people in this nation are treated. I care about the notion of fairness, of equality.
I think this country is a great one and we have a pretty consistent mark of progress. We’re a better nation now than we were 50 years ago. Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards justice.” But that only happens when people put their hand on that arc and pull it towards justice. And I want to do that and the question is, what will be the manner in which I’ll do it?
Capehart: Have you discussed this with President Obama?
Holder: Well, here’s one thing where I’ll agree with Sessions: I don’t really talk about my conversations with the president. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Oh, so you’re protecting him now is what you’re saying. [LAUGHTER]
Holder: That’s one way of looking at it.
Capehart: Another Twitter follower sent me this question for you from @MikeEatsMiami. I have no idea what that means. “Here’s my question,” he writes, “There is talk of your potential candidacy for president. Do you feel now is the right time to continue to recycle members of previous administrations as candidates for president or do you agree that it is better to refresh the faces of the Dem Party?”
Holder: Yeah, we want new ideas and I think that’s really the question. Who has got new solutions to the new issues that we have to confront? I don’t think, as much as the Baby Boomer is kind of getting a bad rap. I don’t think we necessarily have to exit the stage at this point. But the test really is does a particular individual have new views, new ideas? That’s not necessarily a function of when you were born; it’s a function of your outlook. It’s a function of your perspectives. So at some point, yeah. You can be too old and at some point, you can be too young, because you need certain life experiences, I think, to really understand the nation of all of these jobs. So I think the focus ought to be on ideas as opposed to birthdate.
Capehart: It’s been nine years, and by my calculation here, nine years and one month since you gave the famous “Nation of Coward” speech in 2009 for the Department of Justice’s African American History Month Program. And it was a rather bleak assessment for America in 2009. I listened to it again last night, but that was 2009. How would you amend that speech to fit 2018?
Holder: Well, I think we’re actually in a better place. Having had an African-American president, an African-American first lady, an African-American family in the White House. I think that we are in a better place than we were perhaps, then. Though there are things coming out of the White House now that want to take us back to a place—well, frankly, a place that really kind of never existed. But I think if people read that speech; you and I have talked about this before; I didn’t just get up and say at the Justice Department, “The United States is a nation of cowards,” and sat down. The speech was much fuller than that. I actually thought it was a pretty optimistic speech and I think it’s actually held up pretty well. I read it, I guess just a couple of weeks or so ago. And I pretty much stand by that which I said there. And what I said was when it came to things racial, that we too often as a nation were afraid to confront our racial past and our racial present. And in that way, I said that we were too often a nation of cowards.
Capehart: Right, but in today’s America—listening to that speech last night was like going back to this magical time when that speech was the most important controversy of the day. [LAUGHTER] Think about that, compared to where we are now.
Holder: Yeah, and tan suits. Remember how big—
Capehart: [LAUGHTER] You know what? I shouldn’t talk. I was part of that brigade. Sorry. [LAUGHTER] But today, we have gone from a president who embodies all of those things that you just talked about to a White House that has become a bullhorn for white supremacy, that allowed Charlottesville—that glorified what happened in Charlottesville with both sides and not outright condemning the racial violence that happened there. How can you say that we’re in a better place when the White House has become such a bullhorn?
Holder: Yeah, you can certainly look and focus on the particulars of this moment and be concerned, and I am concerned. But I think that arc of history is much greater than simply what’s happened over the course of the last 13, 14 months; which have been significant and which have been negative. Like him or not, Donald Trump has been a consequential president. I think he’s been a negative consequential president. But I think you have to pull back and look at these past 13 months or so in the full range of American history and I still think that we’re on a better arc. There are going to be issues that will remain after Trump leaves that this nation is going to have to deal with, especially, among other things, when it comes to race and the divisive way in which that has been used. But I remain optimistic about the goodness of the American people, the capacity of the American people to accept the demographic changes that I think people in the White House and at the Justice Department so fear. We’re a nation of immigrants and I said before—I said “recent immigrants.” Because the reality is, unless you are a Native American; unless you’re one of the indigenous people, unless you’re an American Indian, you are of immigrant stock. Now, if your people came over on the Mayflower, those were immigrants—early immigrants here.
A lot of our folks came over on slave ships. We are of immigrant stock. My father came to this country in the early part of the 20th-century as a 12-year-old from Barbados. Both of my mother’s parents, same thing. And that story can be replicated by everybody in this room and everybody in this country. We are of immigrant stock. Immigrants make this nation great. They replenish the nation. They revivify the nation. They keep us fresh in the way that other nations are not and to turn our back on our immigrant past in the way that this administration has I think is dangerous. But ultimately, they are not doing anything that cannot be reversed come 2020.
Capehart: All right, this is my favorite part of the interview.
Holder: And now I’m getting scared.
Capehart: I’m just going to tell everybody right now. We’re going to run a little over. So Adam Kuhn tweeted at me @Bethesda over the weekend, “Is it difficult living in the shadow of being married to such a great doctor?” [LAUGHTER] Dr. Sharon Malone.
Holder: It is. In Washington, D.C., I’m really Mr. Sharon. People will come up to me and say, “Hey, aren’t you Eric Holder?” And I go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” “Hey, my wife goes to your wife.” Or a woman will say, “Oh, are you Eric Holder?” I go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” They go, “Oh, Sharon Malone is my doctor.” So, no. I live in her shadow, but I do so very proudly. She is a great doctor. She is a great wife. She has been a great mom. She is the rock in our family. [APPLAUSE] And she’s gorgeous. And she’s gorgeous. I was impressed initially by her intellect. That first night I met you, it was your intellect that came through.
Capehart: [LAUGHTER] If we had more time, I would so get into how they met because it’s a great story. In 2014, I asked you this question, but I’m turning it around for 2018. Homeland, Scandal, Veep, House of Cards. Which one gets the Trump Administration mostly right?
Holder: I don’t remember what I said before, but I would say House of Cards now. House of Cards, you look at it and you think, “It’s interesting. That’s kind of absurd.” [LAUGHTER] Now, it’s kind of like, “Oh, yeah. This is a reality show I’m watching now.” So I might say House of Cards. What did I say before? I don’t remember.
Capehart: It may have been Veep because you made an oblique reference to Vice President Cheney, which got a little—are you more T’Challa or Killmonger?
Holder: What? [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Don’t even try to—you know you’ve seen Black Panther.
Holder: I just saw it two nights ago. And it seemed like a great movie, but I have to tell you, I had just come back from a long trip and I kind of fell asleep at the movie.
Capehart: [LAUGHTER] What?
Holder: So I’m going back. I’m going back. The parts that I saw, I really liked and there were—
Capehart: You’re not answering my question.
Holder: I want to give you a truthful answer so we’re going to have to come back after I had a chance to really kind of check it totally out.
Capehart: [LAUGHTER] Come on, man. All right, Miles Blair is playing you in the forthcoming CBS show, Main Justice. And when we spoke in 2014, I asked you who did you want to play you in the movie, and you said Denzel Washington.
Capehart: [LAUGHTER] Does that still hold or are you open to suggestion?
Holder: Well, the part has been cast now.
Capehart: For the movie?
Holder: Well, for the TV show.
Capehart: Well, that’s the TV show, but I’m—
Holder: Oh, for the movie? Oh, we’re going to a movie? All right. Yeah, I still like Denzel to be there. But I’m open to suggestions.
Capehart: I should say, Miles Blair is the person who will be playing you in Main Justice.
Holder: No, Bokeem Woodbine is the actor who will be playing the attorney general. He won’t be playing me; he’ll be playing the attorney general.
Capehart: He’ll be playing the attorney general. That’s not you, but it’s you.
Holder: In Main Justice, yeah. Right, right. [LAUGHTER] It’s not me, it’s not me. He’s got a bald head. I’m getting there, but his is like—he’s gone.
Capehart: That’s why I’m thinking maybe Idris Elba.
M/F: Oh, yeah.
Capehart: See, you hear that? Oh, wow.
Holder: [LAUGHTER] My wife would like that. [LAUGHTER] One of the best pictures I think I ever took was you with Idris Elba, right? One of her favorites—
Capehart: Are you in the picture?
Holder: No, I was taking the picture, as instructed.
Capehart: I want to end here on a serious note. To reflect on 1968, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You were 17-years-old on April 4th, 1968. Do you remember where you were on that date?
Holder: Yeah. I remember the bulletin coming across the television, the black and white TV I think that we had. And my mother was out. A car pulled in. I remember running out the house and telling her, “Hey, mom. Dr. King has been assassinated. Martin Luther King has been assassinated.” And she was crying and said she had heard it on the radio and we all gathered in front of the television to watch the news reports that day. And I remember feeling a sadness that I had not felt before November 22nd, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated. I had not lost anybody in my family who was very close to me and I felt something very intense in 1963 and felt something extremely intense in 1968 with the death of Dr. King, not knowing that I was going to feel something very intense two months later with the assignation of Robert Kennedy.
Capehart: Who is your greatest inspiration?
Holder: I think my father, my mother. People who worked hard. My father was a dropout, didn’t complete high school, and was among the wisest people I’ve ever known. Had a sense of what was right, what was wrong. Good instinctive abilities in assessing people. He’s a person I owe almost everything to and the things I don’t owe to him, I owe to my mother, who finished high school, but never had the opportunities that she should have had because she was an African-American woman and there were limits placed into how far she could go. She was as intelligent a person and as driven a person as I’ve ever known.
Had she been born 50, 60, 70 years later, she might have been the first African-American female attorney general. But she was denied that chance and she was determined, as my father was determined, that their boys would not be denied those opportunities. And so I thank them.
Capehart: Eric Holder, the 82nd attorney general of the United States. [APPLAUSE] Thank you very much.
Holder: Thank you.
Capehart: And if you’d like to watch video clips and other highlights from today’s program, please visit Washingtonpostlive.com. You can also find my podcasts along with others from The Washington Post at Washingtonpost.com/podcasts. Thanks to everyone here in the audience, as well as those who watched online for joining us today. Thanks again for being here. [APPLAUSE]