Republicans cheered Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation on Thursday, saying that his stormy six-year tenure reflected more of an interest in protecting the Obama administration that the American people.
"He's the most partisan, political attorney general in the history of our country," Washington attorney Cleta Mitchell told Newsmax. She represents six groups in federal lawsuits against the Obama administration over the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service.
"He's been more interested in the political correctness and carrying out the Obama political agenda that has been his interest in being the nation's chief law enforcement officer," Mitchell said. "He has not served our country well."
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he voted to confirm Holder in 2009.
"I had high hopes for his leadership," he said. "But Attorney General Holder's tenure has been strained by his lack of respect for Congress, the American taxpayer, and the laws on the books."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he felt vindicated for not backing Holder's confirmation "because of the many questionable decisions he'd made as deputy attorney general.
"Five years later, I'm confident in the wisdom of that decision," the Kentucky senator said.
"Holder has placed ideological commitments over a commitment to the rule of law. These are not the qualities the American people look for in the nation's highest law-enforcement official."
"Eric Holder's resignation is long overdue, and the Speaker hopes a new attorney general will serve the American people and the Constitution first, rather than simply protect the interests of the Obama administration," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.
Calling it a "bittersweet moment," President Barack Obama announced Holder's departure in the East Room of the White House on Thursday, praising him for his deep commitment to ensuring all Americans receive equal justice under the law.
The president did not announce Holder's successor and said that he was glad that Holder would stay on until a successor is confirmed.
Obama praised Holder for his track record in a variety of areas, especially for reinvigorating the defense of civil rights.
"That's why I made him America's lawyer. The people's lawyer," Obama said. "Eric has done a superb job."
Holder, 63, said he was proud of what the department had accomplished but added that work remained to be done.
"I will never leave the work," Holder said. "I will continue to serve and try to find ways to make our nation even more true to its founding ideals."
A former judge and federal prosecutor who took office in early 2009, Holder came aboard as the Obama administration grappled with the worst financial crisis in decades and with divisive questions on the handling of captured terrorism suspects.
These issues shaped Holder's tenure as the country's top law enforcement official, often placing him at odds with Republicans and other conservatives.
He is the fourth-longest serving attorney general in U.S. history.
Among the firestorms Holder endured at virtually the outset of his tenure included the plan that was ultimately abandoned to try terrorism suspects in New York City; the botched Operation Fast and Furious gun-running scheme that led to the deaths of two federal law-enforcement agents and pushed Republicans to seek his impeachment; and what critics saw as his failure to hold banks accountable for the economic meltdown.
In June 2012, the House found Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over more than 1,500 pages of Justice Department documents related to Fast and Furious. In congressional testimony in May 2011, the attorney general said that he had heard of Fast and Furious for the first time "over the last few weeks."
But after President Obama won re-election in 2012, Holder stayed on — turning to his attention to issues that he said were personally important to him. He promoted voting rights and legal benefits for same-sex couples and pushed for changes to a criminal justice system that he said meted out punishment disproportionately to minorities.
In the latter years of his term, Republicans especially grew incensed with Holder at his refusal to investigate the targeting of tea party and conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service.
The Justice Department has met with Lois Lerner, the former agency supervisor at the center of the scandal, but has not prosecuted her.
Lerner has twice refused to testify to Congress, and she was held in contempt earlier this year, but recently maintained her innocence in news interviews.
Other scandals that erupted in those years included the Justice Department's failure to probe the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens and two former Navy SEALs, in Benghazi in 2012; and disclosures last year that the department had secretly seized two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press.
Any nomination the president announces to replace Holder could set up a showdown with the Senate if the Republicans retake the chamber in the November congressional elections.
Otherwise, any nominee would need a simple majority of 51 votes to be confirmed. Holder's potential successor must first be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The frontrunners to replace Holder include: Deputy Attorney General James Cole; Kathryn Ruemmler, the former White House counsel; and Deval Patrick, the Democratic governor of Massachusetts.
At least three Democratic senators are also being considered: Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris has been a supporter and ally of Obama and is another potential candidate. Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan also has been mentioned at a possible successor.
"The country faces difficult challenges that the chief law enforcement officer must meet head on," said Grassley, the judiciary committee chairman. "It will take someone who has the right qualifications and experience to fill the job.
"Rather than rush a nominee through the Senate in a lame-duck session, I hope the president will now take his time to nominate a qualified individual who can start fresh relationships with Congress so that we can solve the problems facing our country," Grassley said.
"I appreciate Eric Holder's service as attorney general, even though we did not agree on every issue," said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, another ranking GOP member of the judiciary panel. "I hope President Obama will consult with members of the judiciary committee about who he will nominate to be the next attorney general, and I look forward to participating in the confirmation process."
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called Holder's resignation "good news."
"Sadly, he has proven to be the most partisan attorney general in our history, repeatedly defying and refusing to enforce the law," said the first-term senator, who also sits on the committee. "It did not have to be this way, but Holder's leadership has grievously undermined the Department of Justice's long bipartisan tradition of independence and fidelity to law."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said that "along with many Republicans, I have repeatedly called for Eric Holder's resignation. He lost the public's trust years ago. His departure is overdue.
"His politicization of the Justice Department was inexcusable, and his handling of issues — ranging from Fast and Furious to spying on reporters — was unacceptable," Priebus said. "Like the president who appointed him, Holder far too often disregarded the Constitution. He allowed the Obama administration to exceed the limits of its power, and he allowed the IRS to harass and target Americans."
Cleta Mitchell, the Washington attorney, noted news reports just last week saying that Holder might stay on beyond the November elections.
"The thing that surprised me was it is coming now," she told Newsmax of Holder's resignation. "It's good for the country. It's good for the Constitution. I just hope that his successor isn't as bad or worse than he is."
Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, which Mitchell represents in their targeting lawsuit, said that Americans must remain vigilant as Obama nominates Holder's successor.
"There's no doubt the president will try to ram through a lame-duck Senate another partisan hack for attorney general," she said. "We cannot allow that to happen."
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, called Holder "President Obama's stonewaller-in-chief."
The organization represents conservative 41 groups from 22 states in their targeting lawsuit.
"With a new attorney general comes the need for renewed transparency," Sekulow said in a blog
on the ACLJ's website. "The American people deserve a Department of Justice that is just and apolitical — one that will faithfully seek to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land and expose true governmental corruption."
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said that he hoped Holder's resignation brought solace to the family of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry "and the hundreds of innocent Mexicans likely killed thanks to the Holder Justice Department's scheme that armed the murderous Mexican drug cartels."
Fitton was referring to Fast and Furious, in which Terry died in December 2011. Earlier that year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jamie Zapata was shot dead in Mexico.
He likened Holder to John Mitchell, President Richard Nixon's embattled attorney general, "who would lie, obstruct investigations, and ignore or simply not enforce the law in order to advance his president's unbridled will."
"Justice took a holiday during Eric Holder's reign at the Department of Justice," Fitton said. "The man can't leave office soon enough."
Other Republicans took to Twitter to react to Holder's resignation, including California Rep. Darrell Issa:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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