WASHINGTON ― Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who Republicans portrayed as anti-law enforcement for discussing police racial bias and investigating troubled police departments, said GOP attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department show the Trump administration’s claimed support for law enforcement is hollow.
“I would hope that people will remember the way in which this administration has talked about, has treated the men and women in law enforcement during the Trump investigation, so that when they claim they are pro-law enforcement, that will be seen as the lie that it is,” Holder told HuffPost following the Christian Science Monitor Breakfast on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill have launched sweeping attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department in an attempt to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign. While some Republicans insist they’re only conducting routine oversight, others have compared the FBI with Russia’s KGB, and said investigators are worse than Watergate. Trump has accused an FBI agent of treason, and a Republican House member has called four top law enforcement officials “traitors to our nation” who should face charges.
Holder, who was attorney general under President Barack Obama, said his work at the Justice Department aimed to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the public by acknowledging and fixing longstanding problems. But the current attacks by Republicans in service of a political cause will do lasting damage to law enforcement, he said.
“I’m proud of the work that I did protecting cops, supporting cops, and also making sure that I did a lot to erase the trust gap that exists between people in law enforcement and communities of color,” Holder said. “I got criticized for that, but I was dealing with something I think is real. These guys, this administration, wants to wrap themselves in this notion of being for law enforcement, and their actions and their words show that they’re not.”
Holder cited recent polling suggesting that most Republicans now believe that the Justice Department and the FBI are out to get Trump.
“That is a shocking statistic that, A, is not true and, B, is a direct result of these anti-law enforcement things that the Trump administration has done,” Holder said.
Holder, who oversaw the FBI, said the idea that the bureau is hotbed of liberals would surprise those who work there.
“The notion that the FBI is a bastion of liberalism ― that you have wild-eyed left-wingers there running the FBI or populating the FBI ― is totally inconsistent with, again, these little things, these bothersome things called the facts,” Holder said.
While Trump has alleged that Holder “totally protected” Obama and has publicly wished his own attorney general would do the same thing, Holder said during the Monitor breakfast that Obama respected the traditional barrier between the White House and the Justice Department.
Holder said it “would be a good thing” for Trump “to have a relationship and treat the Justice Department in the same way that President Obama” treated it.
“President Obama and I are friends. But he also understood, as I understood, that there has to be a wall between the Justice Department and the White House,” Holder said.
Holder said there were things that he and Obama didn’t talk about, and that his “guess” is that there were more than a few decisions that Obama disagreed with. But he said he never heard criticism from the president, either publicly or privately.
Holder said Trump supporters’ attacks on the FBI could have long-term consequences, such as when jurors need to weigh the credibility of an agent’s testimony in a criminal prosecution. The attacks could raise doubts in a jurors’ mind that would have never existed, he said.
“The long-term negative collateral consequences are substantial,” Holder said. “I would hope the president would pull back.”
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering criminal justice, federal law enforcement and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at email@example.com or on Signal at 202-527-9261.