The Magazine

Eric Holder’s Creeping Remorse

Jun 10, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 37 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The Scrapbook, despite its reputation in some quarters, has a streak of sentimentality when it comes to certain subjects: Old Yeller, for example, or Lou Gehrig’s farewell address. And of course, cabinet members on the road to redemption.

Holder

Which explains why The Scrapbook found itself in a flood of tears last week when reading in the Daily Beast about Attorney General Eric Holder. General Holder, you see, has been under assault because of the Justice Department’s unprecedented campaign of intimidation and abuse against the media (notably the Associated Press and Fox News reporter James Rosen), secretly obtaining phone records, reading emails, issuing subpoenas, letting the FBI threaten criminal prosecution for practicing journalism.

Under such circumstances, the customary practice of the Obama administration has been to deny all wrongdoing, to explain that nobody knew anything until they read about it in the newspaper, and of course, to impugn the motives of those who would criticize the Obama administration. These lines of reasoning and defensive tactics have been on almost daily display at White House press briefings—and repeated in certain carefully selected media outlets. Eric Holder, for his part, has been no exception.

Until now, that is. For according to Daniel Klaidman of the Daily Beast, Holder seems to have had a kind of epiphany over his Wheaties the other morning:

[T]he gravity of the situation didn’t fully sink in until Monday morning when he read the [Washington] Post’s front-page story, sitting at his kitchen table. .  .  . [T]he story detailed how agents had tracked Rosen’s movements in and out of the State Department, perused his private emails, and traced the timing of his calls to the State Department security adviser suspected of leaking to him. Then the story, quoting the stark, clinical language of the affidavit, described Rosen as “at the very least .  .  . an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the crime. Holder knew that Justice would be besieged by the twin leak probes; but, according to aides, he was also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse.

Now, if readers are feeling slightly cynical at this moment—wondering, for example, if Holder really learned all this from a Post story one full day after the subpoena itself was released—The Scrapbook is having none of it. For Klaidman goes on to describe the attorney general’s anguish in some detail and, best of all, to explain how Holder and his trusted associates are working tirelessly to put things right:

Holder knew he had to be proactive in stemming the criticism and restoring the department’s credibility with the press. He and his advisers began exploring ways to reform the Justice Department’s internal guidelines for investigating leaks to safeguard the media against overly intrusive tactics. .  .  . As one of Holder’s advisers put it, the message was: “Look, we get it. We understand why this is so controversial, and we’re ready to make changes to find the right balance.” 

As we have said, The Scrapbook is as skeptical as anyone in Washington when it comes to dissembling by public officials caught in scandal. But is it possible that Eric Holder represents something different? Sure, there is considerable evidence that the Obama administration will do whatever is necessary to protect itself when public servants are murdered (Benghazi) or agencies of government are used to punish political adversaries (IRS). But The Scrapbook has the word of Daniel Klaidman and the Daily Beast that Eric Holder didn’t really mean to do anything wrong and, now that he’s had his moment on the road to Damascus, is determined to “get it.”

But imagine, along with The Scrapbook, if the Daily Beast had been with us in, say, 1927 when one of Holder’s predecessors, Harry Daugherty, was caught in a criminal act. Or in 1973, when yet another attorney general, John Mitchell, was accused of obstruction of justice. We would have been informed that these were good guys who had made a regrettable error in judgment, but were anxious to undo any damage they had done. And everybody, in the aftermath of Teapot Dome and Watergate, would have lived happily ever after!

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers