Does someone at White House want Eric Holder gone?

An anonymous source in The New York Times says the White House is displeased by Attorney General Eric Holder's tin ear for scandal. It could be seen as a gentle nudge toward the door.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
US Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a special naturalization ceremony at the Department of Justice in Washington last month.

Is somebody at the White House trying to push Attorney General Eric Holder out? As in, out of his job, into the private sector?

That’s one reading of a Sunday New York Times story that’s still got people in D.C. buzzing.

First off, we’ll say that no one currently in the administration is quoted in the piece as saying anything like “Holder should quit to save us grief.” But an unnamed “Democratic former official” does say that, pretty much.

“The White House is apoplectic about him, and has been for a long time,” says this anonymous source of Mr. Holder.

One of the administration’s main complaints about the attorney general is that he “does not manage or foresee problems,” adds this source.

This is hearsay, right? The Times reporter hasn’t actually heard anybody in the White House express those views – only a secondary source who claims to have heard them expressed. That weakens the case, as any lawyer will tell you.

But anonymous carping through the media is a time-honored Washington way of easing out officials who have become a liability. It’s supposed to give said official a hint without anyone directly telling them. That way, there’s deniability. The White House can say the person is stepping down of their own accord.

And Holder has definitely been producing some bad headlines for the Obama team. In particular, many Republicans and some Democrats charge that Holder may have committed perjury by telling Congress under oath that he’d never heard of any “potential prosecution” of reporters under the Espionage Act, when he’d signed off on a Justice Department warrant for the communications records of Fox News reporter James Rosen that named the journalist as an espionage co-conspirator.

“I think he’s taken actions that demand explanation,” said Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona on CBS's “Face the Nation.”

Lots of Democrats say all this talk is blowing things way out of proportion. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland pointed out over the weekend that Mr. Rosen hasn’t been prosecuted. The real target of the warrant was Rosen’s source in the government, said Representative Van Hollen.

“It is often the practice in cases where you have investigations that you target somebody for the purpose of gathering information with never having any intention of prosecuting them,” Van Hollen said on “Fox News Sunday.”

President Obama still has Holder’s back, say administration officials for the record. Firing him now, or pushing him out, would be just giving in to partisan critics, in this view. And the AG has powerful personal defenders in the West Wing, including special assistant to the president Valerie Jarrett.

But Holder’s longtime critics prefer to see the New York Times story as the precursor to an internal campaign to ease Holder out.

“Assuming this is a smoke signal from the White House, it indicates that Barack Obama won’t ask Holder to leave.... However, it’s a big hint that the West Wing won’t be too engaged in defending him and would like to see him leave on his own,” writes Ed Morrissey on the conservative Hot Air! website. “It’s not quite a shove, at least not yet, but it’s certainly a nudge.”

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