Holder goes out swinging

Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderFeds will not charge officer who killed Eric Garner The old 'state rights' and the new state power The Hill's Morning Report — Harris brings her A game to Miami debate MORE is speaking his mind in his final days in office, swiping at GOP antagonists and leaving the Department of Justice on his own terms.

Holder has ridiculed Senate Republicans for delaying the nomination of his successor, Loretta Lynch, arguing it is only keeping a man that the House in 2012 held in contempt of Congress in office longer.

“You would actually think that her process would be sped up given their desire to see me out of office,” he said at the National Press Club last month. “Be that as it may, logic has never been necessarily a guide up there.”

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Holder has pushed back forcefully against critics who claim he operated the department as a political appendage for President Obama.

“I think it’s a little irresponsible for people on the Hill to say that policy differences that we have with them or decisions that we have made that are not consistent with the way they view the world can be characterized as political,” he said at a news conference last month. “There is no politicization of this Justice Department. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done over the past six years, the historic things that we have done.”

Observers have noticed Holder’s bolder than ever approach and suggest the attorney general is free to speak his mind now that he’s on the way out and Obama won’t face voters again.

“Now that he is free of the political requirements of his job and he doesn’t have to worry about maintaining any relationships that exist, he is absolutely enjoying having fun poking and prodding and jabbing Republicans,” said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

Holder has become more outspoken on the issue of race as he prepares to leave behind several legacy projects addressing racial profiling and patterns of bias at local police departments.

In one of several exit interviews he’s given over the past six weeks, Holder said he thinks race has been a motivating factor behind Republican criticism of his record.

“There have been times when I thought that’s at least a piece of it,” Holder told Politico.

In December, he announced the release of revised racial profiling guidance for federal law enforcement officials, and last week he unveiled a new pilot program for studying biased law enforcement practices in six cities.

The Justice Department in the last few weeks decided not to bring charges against George Zimmerman in the 2012 killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin or Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of another black teenager, Michael Brown, in 2014.

A third investigation, into the death last year of Eric Garner, an unarmed African-American man who died after being placed in a police chokehold in Staten Island, will not be completed before Holder steps down.

Holder called Martin’s death “a devastating tragedy,” and subsequently released a report on Ferguson’s police force that found widespread racial discrimination.

The attorney general has also shown his fiery side in responding to last week’s shooting of two police officers in Ferguson during a protest, describing the shooter as a “damn punk.”

The effort to bridge gaps between police and minority communities is something Holder sees as his legacy.

“In just the last few months alone, he has launched projects that will ultimately help rebuild law enforcement’s relationship with communities of color,” a senior Justice Department official said.

The official said Holder did not want to step down before the 50th anniversary of the civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Ala., because he wanted to participate in the ceremonies.

He used the event to urge state legislatures to lift restrictions he argued “currently disenfranchise millions of citizens convicted of felonies who have served their sentences,” many who are minorities, and reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to voting rights.

“He’s really leaving on his own terms and it demonstrates a deep commitment of issues of racial inequality,” said Fredrick Harris, a political science professor and director of the Center on African-American Politics and Society at Columbia University. “Holder has had this orientation for quite a while throughout the administration.”

Holder has always spoken his mind, sometimes to the administration’s detriment.

Harris noted that Holder took a strong rhetorical stance on race early on in the Obama administration, when he called the American people “essentially a nation of cowards” for not discussing racial issues more openly.

After that, Harris said Holder seemed to shift.

“I think he had to tone it down. I think his coattails were probably pulled by people in the White House not to talk about race as much because that’s been basically the approach of the White House,” said Harris.

Now, on his way out of office, Holder appears to feel emboldened.

“I think this is who he is,” said Harris. “I think it’s an issue that he’s committed to and wants to leave an imprint as he leaves the administration.”

Holder made clear in an interview with NBC last month that he was unhappy federal prosecutors were unable to move forward in the case against Zimmerman, and said Congress should lower the evidentiary standard in federal civil rights cases.

“We do need to change the law. I do think the standard is too high,” he said. “There needs to be a change with regard to the standard of proof.”

Holder first announced his resignation nearly six months ago and has kept a sense of humor about staying in the job while senators squabble over Lynch.

Obama spoke at a going-away ceremony for Holder in late February at which Aretha Franklin made a surprise appearance to sing “America the Beautiful.” Holder didn’t want the event to take place because he felt he already had a sendoff in September. But the department’s staff organized it anyway and Franklin’s surprise appearance moved him to tears.

When told at a morning staff meeting the following Monday, on March 2, that Lynch’s nomination remained in limbo, Holder joked, “OK, but no more going-away parties. Not even if Beyoncé is available.”