Contrary to what Harry Reid says, the Koch brothers are not pure evil.
At least according to Attorney General Eric Holder, who said in an interview published Monday that Charles and David Koch “should be applauded” for a grant the brothers recently gave to help provide more attorneys for defendants who can’t afford them.
Praise from Holder, who is set to retire from the Department of Justice, will come as a surprise to some given that the billionaire Kochs are consistent targets of liberals who oppose the pair because they support numerous conservative and libertarian causes.
Reid, who was recently displaced as Senate Majority Leader, made the Kochs a frequent target of his Senate floor speeches, in one instance calling them “un-American” because of their opposition to Obamacare.
“Did you notice, or have any reaction to, the news that the Koch brothers recently donated money to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to help support indigent defense?” Holder was asked in a recent interview with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit group that focuses on reforming the U.S. prison system.
“I was not aware of that,” Holder said. “That’s a good thing to hear – people from very different places along the ideological spectrum understanding that we have to make our criminal justice system more fair.”
“It’s about 51 years or so after Gideon,” Holder continued, referencing the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright which required states to provide attorneys to indigent defendants.
“There are way too many people on the civil side, as well as the criminal side, who don’t have their legal needs met. There’s a justice gap,” said Holder. “And to hear that the Koch brothers would be contributing money in that way is something that I think should be applauded.”
Holder was also asked in the interview about mass incarceration, which is an issue that has generated interest from lawmakers on both the left and the right.
“It’s both jaw-dropping and heart-warming to see that an issue that is that important can get people from such disparate political views together,” Holder said. “To think that you can have Rick Perry, Eric Holder, Rand Paul, Newt Gingrich, Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy all essentially agreeing – there might be some disagreement about approaches on the fringes – with the basic notion that mass incarceration is not financially sustainable and also is not just, not fair.”
Holder said that he has met with Paul, a Republican U.S. senator, as well as with Republican Reps. Trey Gowdy and Jason Chaffetz on the issue.
“We had these kinds of conversations where I think there was a growing realization that we have to change things,” said Holder.
“You know, this war on drugs that we’ve been involved in for 30, 35 years…we have not considered all the collateral impacts of the war on drugs, and I think people are now prepared to do that, and not tar the people who are asking these questions with being ‘soft on crime.'”
According to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Koch grant, which was awarded in October, will be used to expand training for indigent defenders and to review “state level indigent defense delivery systems” in order to replicate successful programs throughout the country.
In a similar move that was seen as “strange bedfollows” by some, the Kochs announced in June that they would be donating $25 million to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). Some liberal groups, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a public sector union, severed ties with UNCF for accepting the donation.
In their rationale for ending their relationship with UNCF, AFSCME accused the Kochs of being the source of voter suppression of African-American voters.