Holder: If My Independence Is Compromised, I'll Resign

02/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

Midway through the day, Eric Holder's confirmation hearings have contained moments of contention and lightheartedness. But the one thread that stands out is just how much wholesale change is wanted by -- and being promised to -- members of the Judiciary Committee.

Over the course of several hours, Holder pledged to end the practice of waterboarding, review the process of warrantless wiretapping, and end politicization of the Justice Department. One of the stated priorities of the president-elect, the closure of Guantanamo Bay, was also on the to-do list. But that venture, Holder acknowledged, would be held up in the short term by institutional barriers.

"Guantanamo Bay will be closed," said Holder. "The president-elect during the campaign made that promise. Steps are being taken as we speak to look at the manner in which that can occur. I will tell you this will not be an easy task... the question is what will we do with the people there now, roughly 250 or so people. We have to understand who these people are... based on an examination of the record that exist down there. A substantial number of those people can be sent to other countries safely. Other people can be tried in a jurisdiction and put in jail. And there will possibly be other people who we are not going to be able to try for a variety of reasons but who nevertheless are dangerous to this country. We are going to have to figure out what to do with them.

That process, he added, would require, "an extended period of time, and that is the thing that will prevent us from closing Guantanamo as quickly as we would like."

Even if the closure of Guantanamo may take some time, there will be more than enough on Holder's plate in the interim period. Early in the proceedings, he told Chairman Patrick Leahy that he viewed the practice of waterboarding to constitute torture -- leaving open the notion that his Justice Department could investigate Bush administration officials for authorizing that technique.

Later in the session, he suggested to Sen. Russ Feingold that a review of the surveillance law by the incoming administration may come soon.

And at multiple points in his testimony, Holder fielded and dismissed concerns that he would not be an independent agent in the Obama administration. The juxtaposition was the rocky tenure of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who put in place political litmus tests for potential Justice Department appointees.

"I want to assure you and the American people that I will be an independent Attorney General," said Holder. "I will be the people's lawyer."

In fact, at one rather peculiar point, Holder promised to resign from his post if he felt his position as Attorney General had been compromised.

"I do not think that that is a situation that I will face," he said. "We have a president-elect who is a brilliant constitutional lawyer, a person with a great moral compass. A person who I think will take criticism and advice. ... If however, there was an issue that I thought were that significant that would compromise my ability to serve as an Attorney General in a way as I have described as the people's lawyer, I would not hesitate to resign."