Attorney-General Holder Promises Break With Bush Policies

February 4, 2009 - 5:35 AM
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Vice President Joe Biden administers the oath of office to Attorney General Eric Holder during a ceremony at the Justice Department on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009. Holder's wife Sharon Malone is at center. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Washington (AP) - On Attorney General Eric Holder's first day on the job, he signaled a clean break with past policies of the Bush administration and promised to hold Wall Street accountable if any major financial institutions engaged in fraud that contributed to the global financial crisis.
 
Vice President Joe Biden swore in President Barack Obama's choice -- the first African-American to hold the post -- in a Tuesday morning ceremony before dignitaries and department employees.
 
The lanky, 58-year-old former prosecutor, federal judge and No. 2 official during the Clinton administration vowed to begin a new era at the Justice Department, which was wracked by Bush administration scandals over politically motivated hirings and firings.
 
Holder has pledged to restore the agency's reputation.
 
"This is a place that has I think been hurting, but I think it's ready to heal," he told reporters.
 
"I am determined to ensure that this shall be a new day for the dedicated career professionals that I am so honored to call my colleagues," Holder said after taking the oath. He said he was committed to remaking the department "into what it once was and what it always should be."
 
Biden said the department, under Holder, would return to a past standard of "no politics, no ideology. Only a clear assessment of facts and law."
 
In an interview with The Associated Press, the new president of the NAACP said his organization -- the nation's oldest civil rights group -- was excited about Holder becoming attorney general.
 
"Not only do we believe he's extremely well-qualified and a great believer in effective law enforcement, he's also a great believer in civil rights," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.
 
Shortly after the ceremony, Holder was asked about Wall Street, reviled by some Americans for extravagant company bonuses while seeking taxpayer dollars to remain solvent.
 
"We're not going to go out on any witchhunts, and yet we'll drill down and see" to what extent the economic troubles are the result of fraud or misconduct, Holder said. "We'll find it and hold people accountable."
 
Holder was confirmed Monday evening by a 75-21 Senate vote, with all the opposition coming from Republicans.
 
His first official act as attorney general will be to attend a national security meeting, then head to the White House for a meeting on homeland security, aides said.
 
His inbox is already overflowing with pressing legal issues from the prior administration.
 
For starters, the new attorney general will learn the secrets of the Office of Legal Counsel, whose lawyers justified the use of controversial interrogation tactics and even declined to provide Bush administration documents to internal Justice Department investigators.
 
Holder will also play a major role in the future of terrorism detainees.
 
Obama, in a major policy shift, signed an executive order to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. He also created a special task force to review detainee policy; Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will serve as co-chairs.
 
That panel will look at options for apprehension, detention, trial, transfer or release of detainees and report to the president within 180 days.
 
Holder promised senators he would review why career prosecutors in Washington decided not to prosecute the former head of the department's Civil Rights Division. An inspector general's report last month found that Bradley Schlozman, the former head of the division, misled lawmakers about whether he politicized hiring decisions.
 
Another key question facing Holder is how to advise Obama on the order by President George W. Bush that three of his former top aides -- Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten -- should not testify before Congress about firings of U.S. attorneys. Rove and Miers were former aides when Bush gave his order.
 
If Obama reverses Bush's policy, it would create a new legal issue: whether a former president's order against testifying would still be valid.
 
The Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program is certain to come under Holder's scrutiny.
 
After a lengthy and heated debate that pitted privacy and civil liberties concerns against the desire to prevent terrorist attacks, Congress last year eased the rules under which the government could wiretap American phone and computer lines to listen for terrorists and spies.