Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. today weighed in on the controversy surrounding Paul Clement's decision to leave King & Spalding to pursue same-sex marriage litigation, saying Clement does not deserve criticism.
“Paul Clement is a great lawyer,” Holder said today, addressing reporters at the Justice Department. “He has done a lot of really great things for this nation. In taking on representing Congress in connection with [the Defense of Marriage Act], I think he was doing that which lawyers do when we are at our best.”
Holder said he did not know what happened between Clement and King & Spalding, the Atlanta-based firm that yesterday asked to withdraw from lawsuits about the Defense of Marriage Act. “I’m not casting blame,” Holder said. “I think those who were critical of him for taking that representation—that criticism is very misplaced.”
Holder drew a comparison to the criticism, a year ago, that targeted Justice Department lawyers who defended Guantanamo detainees while in private practice. Conservatives then questioned the allegiance of Justice lawyers.
“The people who criticized our people here at the Justice Department were wrong then, as are people who criticized Paul Clement for taking the representation that is going to continue,” Holder said.
Holder’s meeting with reporters came one day after he delivered a speech in the department’s Great Hall to lawyers and staff. Holder today described the speech as rallying the troops.
In the speech, Holder presented the department’s four top priorities going forward—national security, fighting violent crime, combating financial fraud and protecting children, elderly and the victims of hate crimes. Yesterday, Holder said these “essential” priorities “will help shape our legacy.”
The attorney general today addressed a variety of topics with reporters, from the recent announcement of a fraud task force to examine oil and gas markets, white-collar crime enforcement, criminal discovery, the leak of confidential documents and the use of federal trial courts to prosecute terror suspects.
Asked whether he is surprised no senior Wall Street executive has been charged in the past two years stemming from the financial crisis, Holder said investigations are ongoing and “to the extent we find people who have broken the law, we will bring charges against them, wherever they happen to be.”
“We have prosecuted thousands of cases involving people who engaged in mortgage fraud, insider trading, investment schemes,” Holder said. “We have been active. We have been out there investigating.”
Holder singled out the prosecution of Lee Farkas, the former chairman of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker who was convicted last week on fraud charges in his role in a nearly $3 billion scheme that led to the failure of Colonial Bank in 2009.
Holder said federal district courts will still remain a viable venue for the prosecution of terror defendants. “Article III prosecutions will remain as they should. Those courts have proven to be successful over the years hundreds of times,” he said. “I don’t think that the regretful decision to block the trial of Guantanamo detainees in federal courts will have any kind of spillover effect.”
The attorney general dismissed criticism that the department's Public Integrity Section has shown any “lack of desire” in failing to bring criminal charges in recent months against a member of Congress. Public Integrity prosecutors were at the center of the botched prosecution of Ted Stevens in Washington federal district court.
“We make cases where we can. You can’t go into these things with the notion you’ve been unsuccessful because you haven’t indicted a senator,” Holder said. “It doesn’t work that way. You look at facts. You look at situations that present themselves. These are cases, if they are there, we want to make.”
After the Stevens case collapsed, the Justice Department issued guidance memos to aid prosecutors in the discovery process, and DOJ initiated a training program to further inform prosecutors on their obligations and changes in the law.
Holder said today federal judges tell him in meetings they “find there’s more openness, more transparency” since DOJ began its criminal discovery reform. Judges, Holder said, have expressed to him more confidence in the representations that DOJ lawyers make in court.
Prosecutors “flawlessly” turn over evidence to defense lawyers thousands of times every day, Holder said.
“Occasionally there is a mistake, which I am not saying that’s not important,” he said. “When we make mistakes we own up to them. I’m not concerned about statistics—in the sense that I want to see X number of people convicted. I want to make sure that in every case we do justice. With that as a guide, the numbers will follow.”
On whether he has any plans to leave the department, Holder said he is happy and content. He joked that his wife says he has more time at DOJ and as long as she is on board, “I will be around.”
“I’ve enjoyed my two years here, which is not to say every day has been great,” Holder said. “There have been disappointments but there also have been substantial victories as well. My confidence, my faith in this institution is constantly renewed as I interact with the people of this department, seeing how dedicated they are.”
Updated 5:30 p.m.
Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi / The National Law Journal