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The Axe Files
David Axelrod Interviews Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired September 14, 2019 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on THE AXE FILES, former Attorney General Eric Holder talks potential impeachment proceedings in the current AG.
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ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: Barr seems to think that in fact that is his role as Attorney General to represent the President as opposed to represent the people of the United States.
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ANNOUNCER: President Trump's Deep State conspiracy theories.
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HOLDER: That really, really pissed me off because I know these people. I worked for these people. I was one of those people.
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ANNOUNCER: His advice for 2020 Democrats.
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HOLDER: 2008 is about a 100 years. We have to be prepared to fight for our democracy.
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ANNOUNCER: And the highs and lows of his historic career.
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HOLDER: I made a mistake. That's the one that I blew.
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ANNOUNCER: Welcome to THE AXE FILES.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN HOST: General Holder, it's great to be with you again here in Washington where Congress is back in session. Impeachment in the air, impeachment talk. I want to draw on your expertise. You came to this town 43 years ago and you worked in the public integrity unit of the Justice Department.
Do you believe there are grounds for impeachment for Congress to proceed with impeachment?
HOLDER: I don't think there's any doubt about that. If you look at just the Mueller report, there are grounds there for impeachment. There were 10 specifications of possible obstruction of justice. I think that at least four of those are a pretty solid, you'll be attempt to get McGahn to do certain things, get Sessions to take over the investigation.
Well, I think there is clearly a basis for impeachment on the basis of Mueller and then in addition you know, the emoluments clause. I don't think there's any questions there's a basis for an impeachment enquiry and an impeachment investigation.
AXELROD: Let me ask about Mueller and his decision not to draw any conclusion as to whether the President committed obstruction of justice. He cited Justice Department rules. Now those were in place when you were Attorney General. Did you agree with his approach to this.
HOLDER: It was interesting. I actually thought that what Bob Mueller said was fair. He thought that because he could not indict the President. He would - the President would not have an ability then to respond to a charge he might make.
I was really kind of perplexed tend to see the Attorney General say no, in fact if Mueller wanted to say that the President could have been indicted, he should have said. So I think that Bob conducted himself in an appropriate way. Barr.
AXELROD: OK, what about that? What about, you -- now you've read the report. Going back to his distillation of the report, he summarized it for the country many weeks before anyone got to see the report.
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BILL BARR, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: Evidence developed by this Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction of justice offense.
AXELROD: Was that a fair summary?
HOLDER: No, I mean what Barr did in the two public interactions he had with regard to the Mueller report was totally untruthful. He said things about the report that were totally inconsistent with the things that were contained in the report and it was really kind of puzzling to me.
It was almost like is if well, we're going to get the report. We're going to be able to read this and compare what you've said to what's in the report and--
AXELROD: Was he trying to buy time or what do you think was his motive?
HOLDER: I'm not sure what his motive was but I think the impact of having the Attorney General of the United States dissemble, say something inconsistent with what we had an opportunity to examine did a great deal to harm him and to harm the justice department.
AXELROD: Do you think Congress should proceed? That's a different matter than whether they could, whether they have an inquiry. Is impeachment wise thing to do at this point or and would they be shirking their responsibilities if they didn't proceed?
HOLDER: Yes, I think that they should proceed with an impeachment enquiry and an impeachment investigation, that doesn't necessarily commit you to actually impeaching the President. I think that's what people have to understand. I think you got to go through a whole proceeding and then make a determination that you're not going to impeach him.
You perhaps going to censure him. There's going to be a sense of the House of Representatives and in that sense of the House of Representatives you know, lay out all the things that you have found during the enquiry and not send it to the Senate where I think you know the Republicans are likely to acquit him, deny him that.
But actually lay out for the American people, put witnesses in front of the American people. I want to see Don McGahn testify, I want to see Sessions--
AXELROD: You think he will by the way? I mean they - look, every administration has its differences with Congress over executive privilege. Your administration and the one that I served in did as well but they've taking a very tough line on this issue of executive privilege.
Do you think that ultimately the courts will compel these people to testify?
HOLDER: Yes, I don't think that the executive privilege that might have existed still is in existence.
AXELROD: Oh I see.
HOLDER: The fact that McGahn actually spoke to Bob Mueller waves the privilege that might have otherwise existed and I think as a result we'll have to go through a court process but I think ultimately he and others will - will have to testify.
AXELROD: If there is no impeachment, do you believe that he is subject to prosecution after he leaves office?
HOLDER: Well, I don't think there's any question about that. We already have an indictment in the Southern District of New York where Michael-- AXELROD: Relative to the pay off.
HOLDER: Relative to the pay offs but you know, Michael Cohen's already in jail with regard to his role there. Individual 1 is the President and it would seem to me that the next Attorney General and the next President is going to have to make a determination.
AXELROD: You know that's an interesting question. You came here in the post-Watergate period. President Ford made a decision to pardon President Nixon because he thought it would be bad for the country to go through a trial of a former President. Would there be a cost to that?
HOLDER: Yes, I think there is a potential cost to the nation by putting on trial a former President and that'll at least be a part of the calculus goes into the determination that has to be made by the next Attorney General. I think we all should understand what a trial of a former President would do to the nation. I think that's shaped the determination that Gerald Ford made with regard to--
AXELROD: It cost him. It may have cost him his election in 1976.
HOLDER: Yes, it might have but you know I think looking back, I tend to think that that was probably the right thing to do.
AXELROD: Barr was cited for contempt of Congress. You were the first Attorney General be cited for contempt of Congress in the Fast and Furious investigation. What's different about the scale and scope of what this administration is doing and how it is relating to the Congress?
HOLDER: Yes, I mean I was found in contempt with regard to Fast and Furious and we made witnesses available. We shared about 8000 pages of documents where that wasn't--
AXELROD: So there was a lot of back and forth in the courts about additional material and it took years to sort that.
HOLDER: Right and what we did or what I did was as a matter of principle say, you're not going to get access to deliberate materials within Justice Department. Now all these documents have now been given to Congress. Sessions decided when he became Attorney General to turn all this stuff over.
There's been nothing in there. I mean you only find that I did what I said. I held back stuff that was deliberative in nature. This administration is taken a fundamentally different view which is to say that we're not going to respond at all to anything that Congress asks us about and the contempt it seems to me that they held Barr in is far more justified than what happened to me in Fast and Furious.
AXELROD: The issue of the Justice Department itself, I know that you spend most of your life there. I remember you and I having a bit of a scrap in the White House because I wanted to--
HOLDER: Small scraps. AXELROD: Small scrap yes, but recommended communications person and you felt this was an affront to your independence as the Attorney General. What do you see the relationship between the White House and the Justice Department now?
HOLDER: It's too close. There have to be - there has to be a wall between the Justice Department and the White House. Now question's you know, how tall that wall needs to be but there's certain things that an Attorney General has to have the independence to do free from White House interaction.
You know I remember when I was being considered as up for confirmation, Pat Leahy, he said something, Senator Pat Leahy said something up that I always kept in my mind that I would have to be the Attorney General of the United States. I was not the Secretary of Justice.
Attorney General's different from all other cabinet members. Justice department gets into trouble when it allies itself too closely with the White House. History has shown us that.
AXELROD: The President has said that, he's made it clear, he thought the Attorney General should be his lawyer and do you think Barr is playing that role?
HOLDER: Yes, the President's statements were very troubling and it's more troubling now that Barr seems to think that in fact that is his role as Attorney General to represent the President as opposed to represent the people of the United States.
AXELROD: You worked with Mueller, I mentioned that. You also worked with Jim Comey as FBI director. They're very different personalities. Mueller, kind of ramrod straight by the book guy. Comey is a bit more of a maverick and we just saw a report from the IG, the Inspector General at the Justice Department that was a pretty strong rebuke of Comey for leaking material, sensitive material, not classified materials to try and nudge the appointment of a - of a special prosecutor.
What was your reaction to that and his overall role over the last few years in the 2016 campaign?
HOLDER: Yes, I mean I think first of that the baseline for me is that Jim is - Jim Comey is a man of integrity, I disagreed with him with what he did during the course of the election. The press conference that he had saying that he was not going to recommend indicting Hillary Clinton, I think that had gone that was - something an F.B.I. director doesn't do that. What Justice Department - the Attorney General should have held a press conference.
But I understand also what he did with regard to that material that he you know he got out there. I think his concern was that unless he did that, the information would not be treated in an appropriate way and in fact we saw that the release of that material did result in the appointment of an independent counsel.
So I think it he was technically wrong. Again, you know the I.G. made an appropriate determination but I understand why Jim did what he did.
AXELROD: My impression is that he is someone who at times irradiates (ph) to himself authorities that he doesn't have. The Hillary Clinton press conference was an example of that and the second wave in 2016 when he revealed that he had found some emails and then at the very end said they didn't amount to anything.
A lot of people think that that had a material impact on the election. That seems completely contrary to not just the role the FBI director but the role of the Justice Department which generally stays out of campaigns.
HOLDER: Yes, I mean you know, the - as grew up - I grew up in the public integrity section as you mentioned. The Justice Department's only supposed to speak when it indicts. We don't talk about somebody who you could have indicted, what you might have done. If you're not going to bring a charge, you just are quite about it and I think that was the biggest concern - the biggest problem I had with how Jim conducted himself back in in 2016.
And I wrote an article about that - it was hard for me to write because I've known him for 20 years or so. I like him. I respect him but I thought as I said in that article you know, sometimes good men make mistakes and I thought he made a mistake in 2016.
AXELROD: President's really waged a full scale kind of assault on the integrity of the F.B.I. on the Justice Department suggesting Deep State political and so on. What is the impact on that institution of all of his rhetorical thrusts.
HOLDER: First, let me be real clear here. There's no basis for the things that Donald Trump has said about the Justice Department and the FBI. Those are career folks who dedicate themselves to finding the truth, bringing charges when that's appropriate and do it at a great risk to themselves.
And the impact of that is certainly on the morale of the Justice Department but there's a long term impact as well where the Justice Department or the FBI are seen as potentially politicized. There are going to be credibility determinations. The juries are going to have to make between what an F.B.I. agent says and what a defendant says and having this President say that well, that F.B.I. agent is a political person in nature could have an impact at even the trial level.
So it's totally unjustified and long term, I think it is very harmful. It is something that really, really if I can say it pisses me off you know. That really, really pisses me off because I know these people. I worked with these people. I was one of those people and to see a President of the United States go after the Justice Department, the F.B.I., the Intelligence Community in the way that he has is totally inconsistent with what a President ought to do.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up on The Axe Files.
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AXELROD: How much of the opposition to President Obama do you think was rooted in race?
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AXELROD: You were the first African-American Attorney General. You hung a portrait in your private office there of one of your predecessors Nicholas Katzenbach.
HOLDER: Yes, Nick and I had - I got to know him in the latter part of his - of his life but he was the person who escorted a young African- American woman past George Wallace in 1963 so that she could integrate the University of Alabama.
That young African American woman was Vivian Malone who was the sister of the well my wife, Sharon Malone. That notion of having a deputy Attorney General integrate the University of Alabama with my you know deceased sister-in-law was something that I thought was special and was the reason why I wanted to have Nick's portrait in my office.
AXELROD: Do you remember that scene as I do.
HOLDER: Yes, I remember that quite well.
AXELROD: Two Governors standing in the door?
HOLDER: Sure, I remember that quite well. 1963. I was 12 years old. Black and white TV in the basement of my small house in Queens, New York.
AXELROD: Did that scene influence your kind of career choices when you chose to go into law?
HOLDER: Yes, it did because I was really struck by the Kennedy administration generally and by the way in which Robert Kennedy conducted himself as Attorney General. I remember thinking to myself the things Bobby Kennedy did with regard to organized crime and standing up for civil rights as Attorney General.
I thought to myself you know, this is - this is kind of what I'd like to - I'd like to be able to -this notion of government service is something that I think I'd like to do.
AXELROD: You know, you made a speech a few weeks into the administration in 2000- HOLDER: I'm sure you loved that one.
AXELROD: Yes. It gave me a little bit of dyspepsia in which you called America, a nation of powers when it came to talking about race but in fairness despite my dyspepsia because it did create some political problems. I went back and read the speech and it was a very thoughtful speech.
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HOLDER: In things racial, we have always been and we, I believe, continue to be in too many ways essentially a nation of cowards.
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AXELROD: What are the conversations we're not having in this country that we should be having?
HOLDER: Well, it's interesting. I actually think that what the anniversary, the 1619 anniversary, first Africans brought to this country as slaves were beginning to have the kind of deep conversation about race that I think that we for too long have avoided. What I said in that speeches that we've become expert at avoiding these difficult painful questions around race.
And I can understand how difficult it is and how painful it is. But if we ever want to get to the place where we need to be around things racial, we're going to have to have these conversations and on the basis of those conversations take concrete actions.
AXELROD: So conversation about that whole legacy of bringing 4.5 million people here and slaving them.
HOLDER: 250 years of slavery. 100 years of you know, legal segregation in essence, an American apartheid system. You know, we still are feeling the impacts of that in 2019. I think people need to acknowledge that. You know, I see Mitch McConnell saying well, you know, I wasn't alive when you know the slavery was going on so what is this talk of reparations all about?
Well, hey, guess what Mitch? You were alive during the year of legal segregation when people got advantages and people who look like me were held back simply because of the color of their skin. So there's a reckoning I think that this nation has to - has to make about racial matters.
AXELROD: You know you mentioned, with McConnell said. There is this you know, this tension because you've got a bunch of people in this country on the wrong side of the changing economy, particularly in rural areas and small towns, white communities.
And they don't feel privileged and they resent this discussion. It's something that Donald Trump has mined that sense of resentment. How do we get past that? HOLDER: Well, I think that's one of the things that I would hope the next Democratic President will talk about. To make people understand that white workers have more in common with their black and brown counterparts than they do with the fat cats you know, this special interest who this administration represents.
You know, I understand how this President has been successful in dividing us. I think the next President is going to have to hopefully be equally successful in making people understand that there are things that unite us regardless of race and on the basis of economic condition, economic deprivation, it should bring people of all races together.
AXELROD: You were a prosecutor here in DC, you sat - you were judge for five years and then as Attorney General you were the Chief Law Enforcement officer but you also were you know when Trayvon Martin got shot, I know you went to Ferguson after the police shooting there and talked about your own experience.
It seemed like a hard line to walk as the Chief Law Enforcement officer and as a black man in America whose experienced some of the very things that those protesters on the streets were talking about.
HOLDER: Yes, you know it was one of the reasons why I left the bench as a judge. I only served for five years. I was a judge here in Washington DC during the crack wars when Washington DC was the murder capital of the country on a per capita basis and I had coming before me every day just these - these waves and waves of young black guys who I had to send to jail.
Many of whom as I read their backgrounds were you know, similar to me since I was just uncomfortable doing. That's why I decided to become U.S. attorney to be on the side of making determinations about who I was going to prosecute and prosecute them for what asked what kinds of sentences.
I mean we need a hold people individually accountable for the things that they do but we also have to take into account as we use the power of the Justice Department, of our justice system, these systemic factors that tend to breed crime and it put people at disadvantages and pushed him into choices that, were they given a fair shot, they would not otherwise make.
AXELROD: How much of the opposition to President Obama do you think was rooted in race?
HOLDER: Someone said the same question and I've wrestle with that. There was certainly a political dimension to it but I wonder how much of that that comes off as political in the back of the minds of people who were not overtly racist. How much of that was in fact racially motivated? They looked at this guy and said you know, he's different.
AXELROD: But it also was a symbol of change and you know, that was a major tension in our politics, we're becoming a much more diverse country. It's hard to conclude that that wasn't at least part of what riled up the opposite.
HOLDER: Yes, I mean we know - we know that - we are familiar with this notion of implicit bias and I think there could be you know, implicit political opposition that is race based. And again these are not things that are front of mind for people who might think they're just acting in a in a political way.
But the vehemence with which he was opposed. The things that were said about him.
AXELROD: Did you experience that yourself?
HOLDER: Yes, I think so. I mean all the things that you can say about Barack Obama, I think you can say about Eric Holder in terms of political opposition.
A lot of it was about you know, the change that we presented. For me it was probably, I was a lot more outspoken, I think maybe than the President was. But I wonder also about this notion of this implicit thing that was in the minds of some people.
AXELROD: You know, you and I first met I think when you were heading up the vetting for the Vice President in 2008 and obviously Joe Biden emerged as that choice. He's been under attack from some of his opponents Senator Booker, Senator Harris for some of his past positions against school busing, for his sponsorship of the Crime bill in 1994 that they associate with mass incarceration.
And some of the things he said about segregationists in the Senate. When you did the vetting, do you recall these being issues, were they discussed, was there any concern about his commitment on civil rights or his approach to these issues?
HOLDER: No, not really.
AXELROD: If it had it come up, I assume you would - it would have registered with you?
HOLDER: Yes, I think that's right and you know, I think you know people evolve and you know we're talking about some of the things that he said or did 30 - 40 years or so ago and I don't think that there's any basis for people to believe that a, President Biden would be you know less committed to civil rights enforcement than President Obama was.
No, I'm not endorsing him but I'm just saying that people--
AXELROD: Were those attacks unfair, do you think?
HOLDER: No, I think those things can be - can be raised. It's then for him you know to explain and to as I've just said you know say, well, I might have been wrong then but this is where I am now and you know you judge me on the entirety of my career. And that's to everybody. You know, I think, Kamala Harris has been unfairly maligned as being a prosecutor. You know as if that is something somehow is disqualifying. AXELROD: If she were the nominee, it might actually be a strength.
HOLDER: No, I think that's right and I actually think if I was giving you some political advice, I'd say you got to own that. You know don't try to quibble about it. Yes, I was a prosecutor. I was there for the protection of the people in San Francisco and in California and I did so in a way that was consistent with this notion of progressivism and fairness.
ANNOUNCER: Up next on THE AXE FILES.
HOLDER: And he powered over me and he balled his fist and he put it in my face and said what do you think?
AXELROD: Your dad was an immigrant from Barbados. You grew up in Queens in a really interesting neighborhood that was changing from some Jewish and Italian to much more diverse and a lot of very prominent African-Americans lived in that community, right?
Louis Armstrong and Sidney Potier and Malcolm X and you had like a brush with greatness outside of Malcolm X's house when you were a kid.
HOLDER: Yes, it's a great story. MalcolmX lived on 97th street. I lived on 101st so four blocks away. A Stone house New York, zip code 11369 and I was in a candy store right up the street from MalcolmX's house my brother came flying in and said hey, Cassius Clay, is that MalcolmX's house?
I said get out. He said, no, he is so ran out and there was in fact Cassius Clay, he just won the title against us Sonny Liston--
AXELROD: A really young kid.
HOLDER: Yes and not formally changed his name to Mohammed Ali and he was there and he was signing autographs, taking - just interacting with us and it's kind of a you know, a bit of a smartass kid and if people remember during the win with Sonny Liston, his heart beat was very high.
HOLDER: And I said to him, I said, so were you scared of Sonny Liston? And he powered over me and balled his fist and he put it in my face and said, what do you think. And I said, no, no. You know and he signed an autograph for me which I kept for three years and then my mother in one of her periodic cleaning.
AXELROD: Oh my Goodness. How many - this is my story man. Everything - all of my, I had Jackie Robinson's autograph--
HOLDER: Well, mine said to Ricky from Cassius Clay. It was on a piece of paper torn of a paper bag that I had from the candy store. I mean, I can see it in my mind and my mother disposed of.
AXELROD: I grew up in New York at the same time you did. MalcolmX was killed in 1965. It was very ominous event and it was part of a really turbulent time. What are you - what are your recollections of that era and how that era shaped you growing up in New York?
HOLDER: It was interesting time. I mean, I grew up - you know, I was born in 1951 so I grew up in kind of the placid fifties and then boy, the sixties just kind of take off, I think with the assassination of President Kennedy in November of 1963, Malcolm 65.
Obviously what happened in 1960. I go to college in 1969 after the riots at Columbia and it was just a turbulent time. It was a great time.
AXELROD: It strikes me that in many ways you're a straitlaced guy and then there's this other part of you and you were part of a group that took over the ROTC building, renamed it Princely for MalcolmX.
HOLDER: Yes, it still exists at Columbia and is still called the MalcolmX lounge.
AXELROD: Is that right?
HOLDER: Yes, still there. My mother was shocked, upset, mad that I was part of that takeover. So I didn't send school you know for that but I saw you know, as part of a generation that was against what I thought was an unfair, unjust war.
You know I wanted to be an activist. I wanted to be a part of - part of the change.
AXELROD: So you went to Law school, you went to Washington and you joined the public integrity unit at the Justice Department where you stayed for 12 years, prosecuting corrupt politicians. Why was that something that appealed to you?
Well, I wanted to go to the Justice Department because I thought that being on the inside, you could have an influence on the way in which justice policy was shaped. I didn't want to necessarily be a prosecutor who tried street crime cases because I just - it seemed to me that the system was just unfair in a whole bunch of ways there.
But going after politicians who had been given all the benefits that a society can give. And I thought those are the kinds of cases that - that I could bring. I expected to spend maybe 2 - 3 years in Washington and get back to the center of the universe which was New York and I just never made it back.
AXELROD: Years later, as the U.S. attorney, you prosecuted maybe the most prominent corruption case that has been seen in this town and that was Dan Rostenkowski, a guy I knew from Chicago, probably one of the three or four most powerful people in Washington.
At the other end of this discussion you became Deputy Attorney General and there was an episode at the very end of that administration. You were in charge of signing off on pardons from this - from the Justice Department and then there was a fellow named Marc Rich, a very wealthy guy who had flouted the laws over - the embargo of Iran.
And he fled and left the country and then waged a very long and expensive campaign including political donations and hiring President Clinton's former White House counsel to get a pardon and in the final hours of the administration, he got that pardon and you signed off on that pardon and that became a real big story, a scandal of sorts after the administration.
What happened at that moment?
HOLDER: Yes. You know, I'd like to think that if people looked at the entirety of my career, they'll say you know, he did a pretty good job but that doesn't mean that I was perfect and I made a mistake there. That's one that blew.
AXELROD: Why do you think? I mean were you under pressure? Did you feel pressured to do that?
HOLDER: No, it was interesting. It would happen on the last night of the administration. I was going to be the acting Attorney General the next day. We were dealing with you know, the inauguration of President Bush and we were concerned about his safety along the route.
The call came in and I didn't do what I should have done which was to interact with the woman on my staff who handle all pardon matters and say you know, Debra, what do you think about this? I just made a decision where I said you know, I'm not sure. I'm kind of for it. I didn't really kind of weigh in in a way that that I should have.
It's something where as I said, I made a mistake, I blew it. I learned from that - that mistake. I was certainly questioned about it during my confirmation hearings and I think although it's not something I'm proud of, I think it made me a better Attorney General than I otherwise might have been.
ANNOUNCER: Ahead on THE AXE FILES.
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HOLDER: I'm not a particularly braggadocios person but this is one where I'd say I was a 1000 percent right.
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AXELROD: You served as Attorney General for six years. You were involved in landmark reforms, criminal justice reforms. You took a lead role in the debate over same sex marriage and then there were some controversies as well. A few weeks ago you said immigration was a place where you thought some mistakes had been made.
What were the mistakes that you thought were made on the issue of immigration during the Obama year?
HOLDER: Well, I think the way in which we were dealing with you know, families who were coming across and trying to keep families together in these I guess, we call them family detention centers, something like that. Those were not working out quite well.
But I think the thing that people have to remember is that we changed and we didn't keep those things in place and we move people--
AXELROD: As President Trump says the Obama administration was - were the ones who started family separation.
HOLDER: No, we kept families together but realized even keeping families together on a detained basis was not something that was good for - especially for the - for the kids in those families and so we moved to a different policy.
So mistakes were made and corrections were put in place.
AXELROD: There's also some angst among the left about the fact that there were hundreds and thousands of deportations a year and the administration was pretty robust in that area.
HOLDER: Yes, but you know the emphasis there was on people who had criminal records, people who posed a danger, a public safety risk, those were the people who we emphasized as deporting. You know Democrats have to understand that we do have to have - borders do mean something.
AXELROD: What do you think about the proposal that many of the candidates embrace to decriminalize border crossings, essentially turn it into a civil offense?
HOLDER: No, I don't think that's right. I mean the law that is on the books have been there for about 100 years now or so.
AXELROD: Will it send the wrong signal to decriminalize?
HOLDER: It might send the wrong signal but it will certainly take a tool away from the Justice Department that it might want to use in an individual case and for some reason. I don't know some trafficking - human trafficking component there.
There might be some other reason why you want to prosecute. You want to prosecute somebody but it is up to I think that Justice Department to use its discretion in an appropriate way and I don't think this administration's Justice Department is doing that.
AXELROD: Are you worried that issues like this will blow up for the Democratic nominee? HOLDER: Yes, I mean I think that we need to look for solutions to the problems that we confront that are consistent with who we are as a party, consistent with the democratic tradition but also the kinds of things that we're going to be able to deliver to people.
People don't believe in government because they promised so much and then we frequently don't deliver for them. So I hope that it will be just as I said realistic but consistent again with our progressive principles.
AXELROD: And one other critique that you hear now is and I hear it all the time, why not prosecute the people who are responsible for the financial crisis, the financiers who packaged up fraudulent mortgages and made off like bandits?
HOLDER: Yes, well, I mean first of kind of level set here. First off, we got record amounts of money from the banks who engaged in these inappropriate activities and then shaped those settlements in such a way that the money went back to people who were actually harmed.
The other thing was if we could brought these cases, we would have brought them. I mean people have to understand, these are career making cases and to the extent that if we could have brought those cases, we would have but the decision making was so diffused within these financial institutions that we didn't think we had a base.
I put the best U.S. attorneys that I had on those cases with a thought we were going to charge individuals and hold individuals liable--
AXELROD: You couldn't make the case?
HOLDER: We couldn't make the cases.
AXELROD: In this past week we mark the anniversary of 911 and it made me think about your own battle to prosecute terrorists and particularly Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 911 attacks in civilian courts rather than in military tribunals.
You didn't win on that point. He's still sitting in Guantanamo, won't be tried till 2021.
HOLDER: There's another one where if I can say is I'm really pissed off because--
AXELROD: I'm here to help. I want you to unburden yourself.
HOLDER: OK, I'm not - I'm not a particularly braggadocios person but this is one where I'd say I was 1000 percent right and my opponents were about 1000 percent wrong. I mean I had the ability to look at the case that the military made when they said we should try this case in the military tribunals and what civilian prosecutors said this is why we go to try the case in the Southern District of New York.
And all the problems that we've seen on the military side were predicted in the memos that I received and it was on that basis that I decided the case ought be tried in the civilian courts in the place you know where that incident had occurred with were Americans died. You know the Southern part of Manhattan.
If that had occurred Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his confederates would be just a memory now. They would have undoubtedly been convicted. I suspect given you know, the death penalty and we would have been talking about them in the past tense as opposed to talking about a trial now that would be over 20 years after you know, that bad day in 2001.
ANNOUNCER: Up Next.
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HOLDER: When they go low, we kick.
AXELROD: Right wing media had a field day.
HOLDER: Yes, the snowflakes were on the right, we're all concerned you know. Give me a break. Give me a break.
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AXELROD: One of most significant Supreme Court decisions that came down on your watch was the Shelby County versus Holder decision which invalidated a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act. What has been the impact of that decision?
HOLDER: I mean as was predicted and certainly if you look at Justice Ginsburg's I think really pression descent, states have gone to town and put in place a whole range of voter suppression measures that would have been objected to and stopped by a Justice Department that had a fully formed Voting Rights Act.
These unnecessary voter ID laws, the way in which you move polling places around or close polling places in certain areas. That is going to be seen as one of the worst decisions by a Supreme Court and it's coupled with the Citizens United that lets you know, untold amounts of money into the system.
We have the Shelby County case which cuts the Voting Rights Act and then we have this other case that says that partisan gerrymandering--
AXELROD: Just recently.
HOLDER: - is OK. That suite of cases, I think unfortunately is going to define the Roberts court and the Roberts court will be seen as not standing up for our democracy on the bases of those three decisions.
AXELROD: You and President Obama have formed a couple of organizations. One is to fight in the courts on gerrymandering, on voter suppression and so on and another is a more overtly political organization that is aimed at - at electing Democratic legislators across country, we will have a lot to say about redistricting.
You're now in a much more political role. Does it give you any pause to be the former Attorney General who is now out there trying to like Democratic candidates around the country.
HOLDER: No, you know, I actually see a continuity here. I actually see a continuation of the work that I did as Deputy Attorney General, as U.S. attorney and as Attorney General of the United States. I am supporting candidates who will stand up for our democracy. Who will stand up and protect our democracy.
And I think that right now that is again another defining issue between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Republicans are content with being a minority party that has majority power. And it's the Democratic Party that is saying here's a deal, only one is a fair shake, let's make this a fair fight. If it's a fair fight, Democrats and progressives will do just fine.
So I'm not fighting for partisan advantage, I'm fighting for fairness.
HOLDER: Although you're not going to support Republican candidates.
HOLDER: I would support a Republican candidate who was for you know, a fair process against a Democratic candidate who was for an unfair one. I'm not here to gerrymander for Democrats. When the New Jersey Democrats tries to use the power that they had to in essence gerrymander the state, I stood up very publicly and said that was something that I was supposed to.
I've done things with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former Republican governor of California. If I could find Republican partners to join in this fight with me, I'd put my arms around them and you know be more than glad to make this a bipartisan effort but that's not where the Republican Party is.
AXELROD: So there was this period of time when you were actually up openly pondering, running for President yourself. What - what caused you to sober up on that - on that point? Did President Obama give you some advice about what it - what it all entails?
HOLDER: Sure, I talked to him about it. I spoke also to my family about it. Now let's just say I was outvoted in my family as to whether or not we should proceed along these lines. You know my kids saw what Malia and Sasha had to - had to deal with and what they continue to have to you know to deal with.
And so I had to take into consideration you know, their thoughts, my wife's you know concerns and also balance that with you know, the involvement that I had with the national Democratic Redistricting Committee. I was really concerned that I would leave this kind of midstream.
So it was a combination of my obligations you know, to things I'm really committed to, this anti-gerrymandering, pro-democracy efforts plus those family concerns that maybe decide to kind of pull back. Doesn't mean that you know comfortable even to this day with that decision but that's the decision I made.
AXELROD: You say you weren't entirely comfortable with your decision, why?
HOLDER: Because I thought I could do the job, because I thought I had a world view that would be good for this nation at this time. I thought I had the necessary experience. I thought I would make a good candidate and be a good President and it was hard for me to pull back from you know, those conclusions.
AXELROD: Do you think there's something missing in the field? Quite a few candidates out there. Are there things that you wish they had qualities arguments that that are not being made?
HOLDER: No, I think you know viewed in its entirety, I think are our candidate pool is expressing I think all the right ideas and I'm - I think that we will end up with a good candidate. I just thought that you know, as I looked at the field and I looked at you know what I thought I could bring to the field, that I had some unique things that would have made me attractive as a candidate and I think good as a President.
AXELROD: So you had a moment of over exuberance I would say out on the campaign trail, you kind of amended Michelle Obama's signature statement. She said when they go low, we go high. You had a different interpretation.
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HOLDER: When they go low, we kick.
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AXELROD: Right-wing media had a field day.
HOLDER: Yes, the snowflakes were on the right we are all concerned you know give me a break, give me a break.
AXELROD: What did you mean by it?
HOLDER: It meant simply this. Democrats need to be tough you know. 2008 is about 100 years ago. You're not going to be running against John McCain you know, who's going to stop the woman who said all kinds of negative singles, negative things about President, then candidate Senator Obama.
Democrats have got to be tough. We have to be prepared to fight for our democracy. Doesn't mean we got to get into the dirt with Donald Trump on a daily basis. We got to be strategic in how we use that we have got to be prepared to fight, to be tough and that's what I was trying to say and using that in using that phrase.
AXELROD: So knowing Mrs. Obama too, I was curious if you had any conversation with her about it.
HOLDER: No, I've not talked to her about it. I don't know. My guess would be she probably would say you know, do your own thing, don't necessarily involve me. That part, I would - I might have changed but the sentiment you know, of being tough, being prepared for a fight.
You know that's what Democrats do. You know, we fight for principles. We fight for what's right. We fight for the people. We fight for our democracy. This is not a time to compromise, not with the Republican Party as it's presently constituted.
AXELROD: You sound like a guy who has a little bit of that candidate sensibility in you yet but that will get you in trouble at home. Eric holder--
HOLDER: All right.
AXELROD: Always good to be with you.
HOLDER: See you again.
AXELROD: Thank you. To hear more of my conversation with Eric Holder, go to luminarypodcast.com.