Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. was welcomed to his first day on the job by rousing applause, as he spoke of “a new day” in a department that has been tainted by the influence of partisan politics.
“It is so good to be home,” said Holder, 58, a former federal prosecutor, D.C. Superior Court Judge, U.S. attorney, and deputy attorney general.
The Senate confirmed Holder last evening by a vote of 75 to 21. Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. conducted the swearing in this morning, without incident.
The first black attorney general said that a "new day for this country is potentially at hand" and spoke of the "wonder of America."
"The distance from a very small house in Queens, New York, to the fifth floor of the Department of Justice is not as far as you might think," Holder said.
Holder promised vigorous civil rights, environmental, and antitrust enforcement, and reiterated that “there shall be no place for political favoritism” on his watch, a reference to revelations over the past year that Justice Department appointees violated civil service law and department policy by using politics as a litmus test in career hiring.
“This may be a break from the immediate past,” Holder said in brief remarks in the attorney general’s conference room, “but it is consistent with the long history of this department.”
Talking to reporters later, Holder said national security would remain the department’s chief concern but pledged to “drill down” into allegations of fraud and misconduct on Wall Street and elsewhere.
“To the extent that what we’re facing is the result of fraud,” he said, referring to the economic crisis, “we’ll find it.”
Holder praised former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip for setting the department down the right path after a period of scandal and internecine battles over controversial legal policies.
“If given more time, they could have done a great job,” Holder said.
The attorney general will begin work immediately. He’ll have a security briefing at the Justice Department this afternoon, and later, a national security meeting at the White House.
Click here for a transcript of remarks Holder gave to department employees.