Two of President Barack Obama’s closest allies, former senior advisor David Axelrod and Attorney General Eric Holder came close to blows immediately after a Cabinet meeting, according to a new book to be released next week.
Only the intervention of senior adviser Valerie Jarrett prevented the two men from throwing punches, Daniel Klaidman claims in the book, “Kill or Capture.”
|David Axelrod (AP Photo)
Politico’s Mike Allen got an advance look at the book, which is due to hit stores on Tuesday, and revealed the altercation in the West Wing which started when Holder accused Axelrod of trying to place a political operative in his Department of Justice.
“After the [Cabinet meeting] ended, Axelrod made a beeline for the attorney general,” Klaidman wrote in the book subtitled “The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama President.”
“Obama’s senior adviser was incensed. It had gotten back to him that Holder and his aides were spreading the word that he was trying to improperly influence the Justice Department. Axelrod, who knew all too well that even the hint of White House meddling with Justice Department investigations could detonate a full-blown scandal, had been careful not to come close to that line,” Klaidman continues.
“‘Don’t ever, ever accuse me of trying to interfere with the operations of the Justice Department,’ he warned Holder after confronting him in the hallway. ‘I’m not Karl Rove,’ he added, referring to George Bush’s political consigliere, who had been accused of pressuring Justice to fire politically unpopular US attorneys.”
Klaidman — who reported on the War on Terror for both Newsweek and the Daily Beast — says Holder was incensed at “being publicly dressed down” by Axelrod and was determined to stand his ground.
|Eric Holder (AP Photo)
“The two men stood chest to chest. It was like a school yard fight back at their shared alma mater, Stuyvesant, the elite public high school for striving kids from New York City. White House staffers caught in the crossfire averted their eyes.”
But Jarrett was not prepared to put up with the macho display. “Petite and perfectly put together as always, she pushed her way between the two men, her sense of decorum disturbed, ordering them to ‘take it out of the hallway.’”
Allen gives no hint as to when the brawl nearly broke out, but Axelrod left his role as advisor in January 2011, so it would have been sometime in the first two years of the Obama administration.
He also gave other tidbits from the book, which is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Among them:
- Holder became so depressed by constant sniping at his handling of trials for the 9/11 suspects that he considered quitting in late 2010. “The loss of his mother, the continuing criticism over (Khaled Sheik Mohammed), the lashings in the press, and Holder’s sense of isolation within the administration had turned his job into a grind. He woke up on many mornings with a knot in his stomach, not sure if he’s be able to make it through the day, but Jarrett persuaded him that quitting so early would look bad;"
- Former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel believed Jarrett was spying on him and feeding information to Holder. “Emanuel suspected Jarrett's subterfuge during one 7:30 meeting. When he laid into Holder, he noticed Jarrett pick up her BlackBerry and begin typing. Later, when Holder was at the White House on other business, he went to see Emanuel in his office. He closed the door behind him and laid into the chief of staff for criticizing him in front of White House staff."
- As early as 2009 Obama expressed concern about the indefinite detention of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay. “’You never know who is going to be president four years from now,' Obama said. 'I have to think about how Mitt Romney would use that power.'"
Klaidman claims he interviewed more than 200 sources for his book including current and former Obama administration officials. According to excerpts on The Daily Beast, Obama’s closeness to Holder became a bone of contention for administration staff. “Of all of the 12 cabinet members, why does the boss like Eric the most?” one of the administration’s advisers asked sarcastically. “We should all throw him in a pit and kick him.”
And the Beast reports that Klaidman’s book says Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism adviser in the George W. Bush administration told Obama early in his term, “As president, you kill people.”
“An inscrutable Obama looked back at Clarke, not betraying any emotion. ‘I know that,’ Obama told Clarke in an even tone. ‘He didn’t flinch,’ Clarke later said of the meeting.”
And Klaidman says that Obama soon realized that the claim that Osama bin Laden was wanted “dead or alive” was not realistic, because of the “many issues raised by the prospect of capturing the terrorist and bringing him to justice.”
After bin Laden’s death, Klaidman says Obama became obsessed with killing Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was taken out in a drone attack in Yemen in September last year.
“I want Awlaki. Don’t let up on him,” Klaidman quotes the president as saying during a weekly counterterrorism meeting.
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