In a letter to the editor published Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder accused the Washington Times of running an “ill-informed” and “offensive” editorial in late August that criticized new hiring policies at the Department of Justice. Holder also blasted the Times for making what he called “inaccurate” and “truly shameful” characterizations of people with mental disabilities.
“Your Aug. 23 editorial about people with disabilities was ill-informed, offensive and a stark reminder that persistent prejudices and stereotypes remain too prevalent in our society and must not go unchecked,” Holder wrote in a letter to the Times’ editor.
The Times had criticized a July 31 DOJ policy memo called “Hiring of persons with targeted disabilities,” which the news outlet said allowed persons with “otherwise problematic mental deficiencies” to have “no barrier[s] to jump-starting a career at Justice.”
“The memo lists a number of ‘targeted disabilities’ that trigger special hiring privileges in compliance with President Obama’s Executive Order 13548,” the Times editorial board wrote. “Among them are people with ‘severe intellectual disability,’ ‘psychiatric disability’ or other undefined ‘current severe physical, intellectual or mental conditions.’ Most employers would balk at even minor mental disabilities in hiring a lawyer, let alone severe ones. But the policy states that the Cabinet department run by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. must ‘achieve a work force from all segments of society,’ which includes those who are teetering on the edge of sanity.”
The Times went on to call Holder’s new policy a “crazy new human-resources priority” and detailed how it gives mentally disabled “people special, exclusive treatment.”
“The disabled are eligible for direct hiring in a ‘streamlined, non-competitive appointment’ process that the policy lauds as a ‘win-win’ for the department and the applicant,” the Times wrote. “Of course, this preferential treatment is a lose-lose for the other, perhaps vastly more qualified applicants who were never let in the door, as well as for American taxpayers who cannot benefit from a superior level of public service.”
The Times argues that the “potential for abuse is enormous” with Holder’s new policy.
“The grab-bag category of undefined ‘current severe physical, intellectual or mental conditions’ is elastic enough to allow or encourage fraud, with or without the complicity of people making hiring decisions,” the editorial board wrote. “People may self-identify disability status on the government’s Standard Form 256, which states that information provided ‘will be used for statistical purposes only and will not in any way affect you individually.’ As the Justice Department policy makes clear, this flatly is not true.”
In addition, the Times said the memo may raise serious national security concerns.
“Targeted mentally challenged individuals may be hired for unadvertised positions in a secret, closed-door process that otherwise would be strictly illegal,” the Times wrote. “Standard requirements for prior work experience may be waived so that those who most need to prove they are up to the task don’t have to. Once hired, some of these special hires may have their privileged Schedule A appointments converted into career civil-service positions.”
The Times said this new Holder hiring policy is a sign that “[a]ffirmative action has gone far astray from its origins as a means of correcting specific acts of unlawful discrimination.”
In response, Holder fired off a nearly 400 word letter attacking the Times. “What was notably absent from your editorial was the requirement that in order to be selected, the disabled candidates must demonstrate that they are qualified for the jobs,” Holder wrote in his letter.
“Your suggestion that this important authority, given to all federal agencies by Congress, is being used at the department to hire only attorneys and then only those with what once was referred to as ‘mental retardation’ or those who are ‘teetering on the edge of sanity’ is not only inaccurate, it is truly shameful,” Holder continued. “It demonstrates the kind of unjustified attitudes that have resulted in the unacceptably high unemployment rate for people with disabilities.”
It’s unclear if President Barack Obama’s White House signed off on Holder’s letter, as spokespeople for the White House and DOJ did not return a request for comment.
This is not the first time Holder has publicly derided members of the press. When calls for his resignation over Operation Fast and Furious began mounting last fall, he lashed out at a Daily Caller reporter and accused TheDC of being “behind” the calls for him to step aside, which he claimed weren’t “organic.”
Holder also reportedly scolded an intern for Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy for taking notes during a lecture he gave recently, and snapped at Republican Rep. John Culberson last year for questioning the attorney general about the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case in a congressional hearing, which he said demeaned “my people.”
Holder has been criticized for what his detractors say is an inability to handle criticism. Former George W. Bush speechwriter and Center for Individual Freedom senior fellow Troy Senik, for example, argued in an editorial for TheDC earlier this year that Holder is unable to accept accept a theory or argument different than his own, and has a tendency to see criticisms of his performance as racially motivated.
“This is the controlling thesis — perhaps the only thesis — that occupies Eric Holder’s mind: any public policy he disfavors can’t be motivated by honest disagreements about first principles or empirical realities; it must be the product of prejudices buried deep within the subconsciousness of its proponents,” Senik wrote.
In December 2011, Holder accused his critics of racial motivations in an interview with The New York Times.
“This is a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him,” Holder said, according to the Times. “Both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.”