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Might Obama fire Attorney General Eric Holder?

Justice Department's pursuit of media leaks, which led to a subpoena of AP phone records, has GOP officials (and some Democrats) calling for the head of Attorney General Eric Holder. Here are three reasons Obama is not likely to oblige.

By Staff writer / May 20, 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's top law enforcement official, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, last week, before the House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Justice Department. Many Republicans – and some liberal Democrats – are calling for Holder’s replacement these days.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Should Attorney General Eric Holder quit his office? Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas called for just that Sunday during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Why? There’s no written evidence that Mr. Holder actually recused himself from the Justice Department’s AP leak case, as he claims he did, said Senator Cornyn.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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The Texas lawmaker added that he lost confidence in the attorney general long ago, during the GOP probe into Justice Department’s botched Fast and Furious gun sting operation.

“I think it’s past time for him to go and for the president to appoint somebody who the public can have confidence in,” said Cornyn.

Nor is Cornyn's a lone voice. Many Republicans – and some liberal Democrats – are calling for Holder’s replacement these days. The broad Justice Department subpoena of AP phone records is the main reason they cite.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, for instance, issued a statement last Tuesday calling for Holder to go.

“Attorney General Eric Holder, in permitting the Justice Department to issue secret subpoenas to spy on Associated Press reporters, has trampled on the First Amendment and failed in his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution,” said the Priebus statement. “Because Attorney General Holder has so egregiously violated the public trust, the president should ask for his immediate resignation.”

Wow, that’s pretty harsh. Is there any chance it will actually happen?

Well, you can never say “never” in partisan politics. But the chance of Holder losing his job anytime soon is not very high, absent any further disclosures.

“The president will stay with Eric Holder until the very end,” said former GOP lawmaker Joe Scarborough on his MSNBC show on Friday.

Why’s this? One reason is that it’s mostly (though not exclusively) Republicans who are calling for Holder’s ouster, and the Obama White House does not want them to get a political win.

The animus between Holder and some Republicans is palpable during his appearances before congressional committees. It’s been that way for years. Cornyn, in fact, first called for Holder to resign last June. At the time, he cited Fast and Furious, as well as the fact that Holder would not appoint a special prosecutor to look into leaks of classified security information.

“With all due respect, senator, there’s so much that’s factually wrong with the premises that you started your statement with,” Holder told him at the time. “It’s almost breathtaking in its inaccuracy.”

The second reason is that President Obama probably agrees with the AP subpoena. His administration has prosecuted more leak cases than any in history. It’s tough to fire a guy for doing what he knows you want.

The last is the Fast and Furious connection. That’s last year’s scandal. If Holder were going to lose his job over that, it would have happened by now. For what it’s worth, Mr. Obama defended Holder vehemently last week during a press appearance.

“I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general,” said Obama. 

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