Statement by the President and Attorney General Eric Holder
State Dining Room
4:30 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Please have a seat. Bobby Kennedy once said, “On this generation of Americans falls the full burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and equal before the law.”
As one of the longest-serving Attorney Generals in American history, Eric Holder has borne that burden. And over the summer, he came to me and he said he thought six years was a pretty good run -- I imagine his family agrees. Like me, Eric married up. He and his wife, Dr. Sharon Malone, a nationally-renowned OBGYN, have been great friends to Michelle and me for years. And I know Brooke and Maya and Buddy are excited to get their dad back for a while.
So this is bittersweet. But with his typical dedication, Eric has agreed to stay on as Attorney General until I nominate his successor and that successor is confirmed by the Senate. Which means he’ll have a chance to add to a proud career of public service -- one that began nearly 40 years ago as a young prosecutor in the Department that he now runs.
He was there for 12 years, taking on political corruption until President Reagan named him to the bench as a judge. Later, President Clinton called him back. So all told, Eric has served at the Justice Department under six Presidents of both parties -- including a several-day stint as acting Attorney General at the start of George W. Bush’s first term. And through it all, he’s shown a deep and abiding fidelity to one of our most cherished ideals as a people, and that is equal justice under the law.
As younger men, Eric and I both studied law. And I chose him to serve as Attorney General because he believes, as I do, that justice is not just an abstract theory. It’s a living and breathing principle. It’s about how our laws interact with our daily lives. It’s about whether we can make an honest living, whether we can provide for our families; whether we feel safe in our own communities and welcomed in our own country; whether the words that the Founders set to paper 238 years ago apply to every single one of us and not just some.
That’s why I made him America’s lawyer, the people’s lawyer. That comes with a big portfolio -- from counterterrorism to civil rights, public corruption to white-collar crime. And alongside the incredible men and women of the Justice Department -– men and women that I promise you he is proud of and will deeply miss -– Eric has done a superb job.
He’s worked side by side with our intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security to keep us safe from terrorist attacks and to counter violent extremism. On his watch, federal courts have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terror cases, proving that the world’s finest justice system is fully capable of delivering justice for the world’s most-wanted terrorists.
He’s rooted out corruption and fought violent crime. Under his watch, a few years ago, the FBI successfully carried out the largest mafia takedown in American history. He’s worked closely with state and local law enforcement officers to make sure that they’ve got the resources to get the job done. And he’s managed funds under the Recovery Act to make sure that when budgets took a hit, thousands of cops were able to stay on the beat nationwide.
He’s helped safeguard our markets from manipulation, and consumers from financial fraud. Since 2009, the Justice Department has brought more than 60 cases against financial institutions, and won some of the largest settlements in history for practices related to the financial crisis, recovering $85 billion –- much of it returned to ordinary Americans who were badly hurt.
He’s worked passionately to make sure our criminal justice system remains the best in the world. He knows that too many outdated policies, no matter how well-intentioned, perpetuate a destructive cycle in too many communities. So Eric addressed unfair sentencing disparities, reworked mandatory minimums, and promoted alternatives to incarceration. And thanks to his efforts, since I took office, the overall crime rate and the overall incarceration rate have gone down by about 10 percent. That’s the first time that they’ve declined together, at the same tim, in more than 40 years.
Eric’s proudest achievement, though, might be reinvigorating and restoring the core mission to what he calls “the conscience of the building” -- and that’s the Civil Rights Division. He has been relentless against attacks on the Voting Rights Act –- because no citizen, including our servicemembers, should have to jump through hoops to exercise their most fundamental right. He’s challenged discriminatory state immigration laws that not only risked harassment of citizens and legal immigrants, but actually made it harder for law enforcement to do its job.
Under his watch, the Department has brought a record number of prosecutions for human trafficking, and for hate crimes -- because no one in America should be afraid to walk down the street because of the color of their skin, the love in their heart, the faith they practice, or the disabilities that they live with.
He’s dramatically advanced the cause of justice for Native Americans, working closely with their communities. And several years ago, he recommended that our government stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act -- a decision that was vindicated by the Supreme Court, and opened the door to federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and federal benefits for same-sex couples. It’s a pretty good track record.
Eric’s father was an immigrant who served in the Army in World War II only to be refused service at lunch counters in the nation he defended. But he and his wife raised their son to believe that this country’s promise was real, and that son grew up to become Attorney General of the United States. And that’s something. And that’s why Eric has worked so hard -- not just in my administration, but for decades -- to open up the promise of this country to more striving, dreaming kids like him. To make sure those words -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- are made real for all of us.
Soon, Eric, Sharon, and their kids will be a bit freer to pursue a little more happiness of their own. And thanks to Eric’s efforts, so will more Americans -- regardless of race or religion, gender or creed, sexual orientation or disability, who will receive fair and equal treatment under the law.
So I just want to say thank you, Eric. Thank you to the men and women of the Justice Department who work day in and out for the American people. And we could not be more grateful for everything that you’ve done not just for me and the administration, but for our country. (Applause.)
ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: I come to this moment with very mixed emotions: proud of what the men and women of the Department of Justice have accomplished over the last six years, and at the same time, very sad that I will not be a formal part -- a formal part -- of the great things that this Department and this President will accomplish over the next two.
I want to thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity that you gave me to serve and for giving me the greatest honor of my professional life. We have been great colleagues, but the bonds between us are much deeper than that. In good times and in bad, in things personal and in things professional, you have been there for me. I’m proud to call you my friend.
I’m also grateful for the support you have given me and the Department as we have made real the visions that you and I have always shared. I often think of those early talks between us, about our belief that we might help to craft a more perfect union. Work remains to be done, but our list of accomplishments is real.
Over the last six years, our administration -- your administration -- has made historic gains in realizing the principles of the founding documents and fought to protect the most sacred of American rights, the right to vote.
We have begun to realize the promise of equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters and their families. We have begun to significantly reform our criminal justice system and reconnect those who bravely serve in law enforcement with the communities that they protect.
We have kept faith with our belief in the power of the greatest judicial system the world has ever known to fairly and effectively adjudicate any cases that are brought before it, including those that involve the security of the nation that we both love so dearly.
We have taken steps to protect the environment and make more fair the rules by which our commercial enterprises operate. And we have held accountable those who would harm the American people -- either through violent means or the misuse of economic or political power.
I have loved the Department of Justice ever since as a young boy I watched Robert Kennedy prove during the Civil Rights Movement how the Department can and must always be a force for that which is right. I hope that I have done honor to the faith that you have placed in me, Mr. President, and to the legacy of all those who have served before me.
I would also like to thank the Vice President, who I have known for so many years, and in whom I have found great wisdom, unwavering support, and a shared vision of what America can and should be.
I want to recognize my good friend Valerie Jarrett, whom I’ve been fortunate to work with from the beginning of what started as an improbable, idealistic effort by a young senator from Illinois, who we were both right to believe would achieve greatness.
I’ve had the opportunity to serve in your distinguished Cabinet and worked with a White House Chief of Staff -- a White House staff ably led by Denis McDonough that has done much to make real the promise of our democracy. And each of the men and women who I have come to know will be lifelong friends.
Whatever my accomplishments, they could not have been achieved without the love, support and guidance of two people who are not here with me today. My parents, Eric and Miriam Holder, nurtured me and my accomplished brother, William, and made us believe in the value of individual effort and the greatness of this nation.
My time in public service, which now comes to an end, would not have been possible without the sacrifices too often unfair made by the best three kids a father could ask for. Thank you, Maya. Thank you, Brooke. And thank you, Buddy.
And finally, I want to thank the woman who sacrificed the most and allowed me to follow my dreams. She is the foundation of all that our family is, and the basis of all that I have become. My wife, Sharon, is the unsung hero. And she is my life partner. Thank you for all that you have done. I love you.
In the months ahead, I will leave the Department of Justice, but I will never -- I will never -- leave the work. I will continue to serve and try to find ways to make our nation even more true to its founding ideals.
I want to thank the dedicated public servants who form the backbone of the United States Department of Justice for their tireless work over the past six years, for the efforts they will continue, and for the progress that they made and that will outlast us all.
And I want to thank you all for joining me on a journey that now moves in another direction, but that will always be guided by the pursuit of justice and aimed at the North Star.
Thank you. (Applause.)
4:41 P.M. EDT