(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Justice Department, under his leadership, has done "historic and big things," outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder told DOJ employees in his farewell address on Friday.
"This department is restored," he said. "It's restored to what it always was...and what it must always be -- free of politicization, focused on the mission, and making sure that justice is done without any kind of interference from political outsiders."
In June 2012, Holder became the first attorney general -- and the first cabinet member in history -- to be held in contempt of Congress, for his failure to hand over subpoenaed documents in the "Fast and Furious" gun-walking scheme. The vote was 255-67, with more than 100 Democrats boycotting and 17 Demcocrats voting with Republicans for the contempt citation.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), then-chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Holder's Justice Department knew about the guns-to-Mexico scheme but denied it when questioned by Congress; told witnesses not to answer lawmakers' questions; retaliated against whistleblowers; and withheld documents.
The legal case involving those subpoenaed documents is still in the courts as Holder departs.
Holder was at the center of other controversies aside from Fast and Furious.
In January, at the confirmation for Loretta Lynch, Holder's successor as attorney general, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) urged Lynch to take the Justice Department in "a new direction," and he called various witnesses to testify about the "many ways" the Justice Department had failed to fulfill its mission during Holder's tenure:
"We'll hear from (reporter) Sharyl Attkisson as one example of a person who was an investigative journalist, who's been bullied, threatened and literally blocked from entering the Department of Justice because she had the guts to report on issues like Fast and Furious and Benghazi. That's one example of something we'd like to have a new attorney general fix," Grassley said in his opening statement.
"We'll also hear from Catherine Engelbrecht, who was targeted by the IRS simply because she's a conservative who's had the courage to stand up in the defense of freedom and the Constitution. The department has paid lip service to the investigation that it is supposedly leading. So I would like to know how Ms. Lynch will take seriously the targeting of fellow citizens based on their political views.
"Then we have Sheriff David Clarke, Milwaukee, who will testify about how thousands of local law enforcement officers across this country feel as though their current leadership doesn't fully appreciate the work that law enforcement does every day. So, that's important to see how Ms. Lynch might do to mend the broken relationships."
(As racial tensions simmered in Ferguson, Mo., last summer, Eric Holder visited the city and told some of its residents that he understands their "mistrust." "I am the Attorney General of the United States. But I am also a black man. I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding.")
In his opening statement, Grassley also mentioned how the Department of Justice under Eric Holder "has rubber-stamped the president's lawless actions from the unlawful recess appointments and the unlawful executive action, specifically on immigration."
Grassley said he hoped the witnesses called by the Judiciary Committee would "bring up points that we have made not quite as directly as they have or (as) personally as they have in hopes that Ms. Lynch will restore the Office of Legal Counsel to the impartial role it used to play as a check on president's authority."