Andrew Cohen, a contributing editor at The Atlantic and legal analyst for CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” believes Attorney General Eric Holder must resign following this week’s scathing report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which sharply criticized the administration’s handling of Operation Fast and Furious.
“In the end, the much-heralded, much-maligned Office of the Inspector General’s report on the ‘Fast and Furious’ gun scandal tells us what we already know: Attorney General Eric Holder should resign if President Barack Obama wins another term,” Cohen wrote in a Friday column for The Atlantic.
Cohen added Holder has failed to fix the Justice Department, which he said needed leadership after the tenure of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Bush administration.
The Justice Department’s Public Affairs director, Tracy Schmaler, has said the inspector general’s report “cleared,” “exonerated,” and “vindicated” Holder, claims that a variety of media outlets and pundits have repeated uncritically. But Cohen, a left-leaning journalist, plainly was not convinced.
“Even viewing the documents and investigation in a light most favorable to the current head of the Justice Department, even discounting the conspiracy theories offered by the Administration’s most ardent critics, the Inspector General’s report tells us that Holder ultimately failed to do what he absolutely had to do at Justice when he succeeded caretaker Attorney General Michael Mukasey in early 2009,” Cohen wrote.
“The prime directive – then and now – was to restore more professionalism to the Department after years of partisan abuse and misuse by the Bush Administration,” Cohen continued. “It’s been five years, and many smart people already have forgotten, but the Justice Department under the reign of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was an outright catastrophe, with episodes including but not limited to the U.S. Attorney scandal. Mukasey began the job of cleaning it up during his brief tenure following Gonzales. But it was Holder’s responsibility, when he got the job in January 2009, to ensure that the Department, at a minimum, no longer did anything patently stupid.”
Cohen added that, while the inspector general concluded that Holder was not personally aware of Fast and Furious until February 2011, “avoiding perjury or obstruction of justice, or being ignorant of your department’s biggest scandal, is no cause for relief. … There’s no dispute that he should have known.”
Cohen also criticized Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and the consistent failure of administration of officials to communicate.
“The [inspector general's] report confirms that Breuer knew about the program in 2010 and yet failed to tell his boss about it,” Cohen wrote. “Never mind what Breuer then said to Congress; this initial failure to report the critical information up the line is inexcusable and unacceptable. And so is Holder’s failure this week even to mention, in his remarks responding to the OIG report, what Breuer belatedly conceded was his ‘mistake.’ Breuer should have resigned long ago. And, since he didn’t, this week Holder should have fired him. Trust me, the Department can live without Lanny Breuer.”
Cohen took “no joy in writing” his column, though he added he does not “for a moment think that Eric Holder is another Alberto Gonzales.”
“But even if you take the politics out of this scandal – even if you strip it down to the bare essence of governance – the central truth of the story is that the Justice Department failed to stop something stupid (and dangerous and, ultimately, tragic) from happening,” Cohen wrote. “And then, when the scandal came, the Department didn’t move quickly enough to confront the truth, to reveal it, and then to take responsibility for what had happened. That wasn’t good enough when the hapless Gonzales was running the show, and it’s not good enough now.”