CBS recently ordered a pilot episode of a new show, “Main Justice,” in which the protagonist will be based on former Obama attorney general Eric Holder. Since Holder is an executive producer, the narrative will no doubt depict him as the crusader for justice that he sees in his own mirror every day. It will also likely serve as campaign propaganda now that Holder is openly flirting with running for president in 2020.
To be fair, Holder’s career has had some high points. But no objective review of his record would ever conclude that he’s a maverick who bucked the system in the pursuit of justice. That part is pure Hollywood.
Here’s one vignette in Holder’s career guaranteed to end up on the cutting room floor: as deputy attorney general at the end of the Clinton administration he made the official call behind the now-infamous Marc Rich pardon. Rich, a former fixture on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, violated the Trading with the Enemy Act with multiple countries, including the purchase of millions of barrels of oil from Iran during the hostage crisis.
A congressional report later confirmed that Holder withheld his knowledge of this dubious recommendation from other Justice Department officials. Even more disturbing, Holder was in contact with Jack Quinn, Marc Rich’s representative, who was an influential powerbroker within the Democratic Party. Holder no doubt believed the pardon would help him become attorney general if Vice President Al Gore was elected in 2000. Bad bet.
After George W. Bush became president, Holder went into private practice with the D.C.-based white-shoe law/lobbying firm Covington & Burling. In that role, he represented several powerful corporate clients. In particular, he arranged a sweetheart deal for Chiquita Banana, which paid over $1 million to the terrorist paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
Holder and Chiquita’s representatives presented the company as a victim and asserted that these were extortion payments. In reality, Chiquita was one of roughly 200 companies involved in “para-economics” in which corporations hired paramilitaries to provide security and intimidate and/or murder labor activists. One ex-paramilitary leader testified that Chiquita named specific “targets” who were to be executed. Court records show that Chiquita supplied the AUC with 3,000 AK-47s and 5,000 rounds of ammunition.
The Colombian government estimates that 15 percent of its country’s land was acquired through coercion or force by the paramilitaries. Likewise, these groups have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. It was for these reasons that the U.S. government designated the AUC as a terrorist organization. Nonetheless, Holder contested in court, “There is no clearly defined rule of international law prohibiting material support of terrorism.”
Ultimately, Holder secured a $25 million settlement agreement for Chiquita under which none of its employees faced criminal charges. Keep in mind, years earlier, Holder wrote a memo, “Bringing Criminal Charges Against Corporations,” that advocated charging employees who are complicit in corporate crimes.
His role in protecting corporate criminals was inadvertently brought back to the forefront again with one of his latest tweets:
This Administration has been in power for over a year now. They have done nothing to protect our electoral systems from further attacks or to deal meaningfully with the opioid crisis. Inexcusable.
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) February 10, 2018
That critique ignores Holster’s own role in enabling the opioid crisis. It’s well-established now that Purdue Pharma (manufacturer of Oxycontin) created much of the demand for heroin in this country. Purdue’s deceptive and aggressive marketing practices included a claim that less than 1 percent of patients become addicted to opioids. Doctors who refused to fill prescriptions were threatened, among other crooked behavior. Nonetheless, on behalf of Purdue Pharma, Holder once negotiated a slap-on-the-wrist penalty of a $22 million fine, which represents only a tiny fraction of the profits generated from Oxycontin.
There were other similar cases during his time at Covington & Burling, and Holder’s penchant for protecting the politically connected didn’t cease once he returned to public office in 2009 as U.S. attorney general.
Only months after entering office, the Department of Justice under Holder announced that a federal investigation of former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson had been dropped. The decision came from “Main Justice,” i.e. the highest levels of the DOJ. The AP quoted a DOJ official who stated that the investigation “was killed in Washington.”
To recap, that scandal forced Richardson to withdraw from consideration as Obama’s commerce secretary. Nonetheless, the DOJ declined to press charges in one of the most clear-cut cases of pay-to-play corruption Washington had seen in a long time. Richardson literally gave a lucrative government contract to a company immediately after one of its representatives handed him an envelope with a contribution to his PAC. That contract cost the company $1.5 million in fees.
Many people view Holder’s handling of the “Fast and Furious” ATF gun-running scandal as the defining mark of his legacy. His stonewalling of any outside investigation earned him the dubious distinction of being the only U.S. attorney general ever to be held in contempt of Congress. A report last year by the House Oversight Committee even determined that the DOJ viewed the family of Brian Terry, the U.S. Border Patrol agent who was killed by a gun and whose death ignited the scandal, as a “public relations nuisance.”
However, the more lasting legacy of Holder’s DOJ will be his greasing of the public-private revolving door while he was in office. He appointed several of his former colleagues from Covington & Burling into top positions at the DOJ, and their track record with corporate crime made it abundantly clear that they knew who buttered their bread.
For example, during Holder’s tenure, the agency was faced with an unprecedented number of high-profile scandals involving the financial sector. To name a few, there was the mortgage fraud crisis, the Forex scandal, the Libor rate-rigging scandal, and the “robo-signing” scandal, among others. However, the consistent theme of Holder’s Justice Department was corporations walking away with civil fines and no criminal charges.
Again, remember that Holder wrote a memo in 1999 giving guidance for the prosecution of employees of companies directly involved in corporate crime. But that basic standard went out the window during his watch as AG a decade later, when he admitted that the “Too Big to Fail” banks were “Too Big to Jail.” In 2013, he testified to the Senate, “I am concerned that the size of these (financial) institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them.”
Arguably the most glaring of these examples involved the U.K.-based financial giant HSBC. This bank was involved in staggering criminality, laundering $881 million for the Sinaloa cartel and the Norte del Valle cartel of Colombia. In fact, some of their Mexican branches actually widened their teller windows to enable these gangsters to deposit bigger boxes of cash.
HSBC further failed to monitor as much as $60 trillion in suspicious transactions, including business in nations sanctioned by the U.S. government (Iran, Cuba, Sudan, and Burma). HSBC even did business with a Saudi bank, al Rajhi, which has been described as one of Osama bin Laden’s “Golden Chains” of financiers.
Despite admissions of criminal wrongdoing from HSBC, Holder overruled the recommendations of his staff to prosecute HSBC. A congressional report found that not only was the investigation rushed at “alarming speed,” but that Holder misled Congress about his reasons for declining criminal indictments.
HSBC agreed to a $1.9 billion settlement, which certainly led to many headlines, but as punishment it in no way was befitting of the criminal activity committed.
Holder had a lousy overall record of serving the nation’s interests, particularly when it came to white collar crime and crony capitalism, while his corporate benefactors made out like bandits. In 2015, he returned to Covington & Burling where a corner office had been reserved for him. His salary is undisclosed, but you can be certain it’s higher than the $3 million he had earlier garnered.
Simply put, expect Eric Holder’s self-serving TV series to be as phony and far-fetched as any candidacy for president he may have in mind.
Brian Saady is a freelance writer and author of Rackets, a three-book series focusing on the issue of drug legalization and gambling, and the decriminalization of prostitution. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @briansaady.