WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Seizing on news that Attorney General Eric Holder plans to step down, Republican lawmakers piled criticism on him over the Internal Revenue Service scandal, his handling of a gun-running probe known as “Fast and Furious,” and a host of other issues.
Holder has clashed for years with Republicans, who see the attorney general and close confidant of President Barack Obama as a partisan warrior who has failed to enforce the law in an even-handed manner.
“By needlessly injecting politics into law enforcement, Attorney General Holder’s legacy has eroded more confidence in our legal system than any Attorney General before him,” said Representative Darrell Issa, the chairman of a House oversight panel who has often sparred with Holder.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives held Holder in contempt in June 2012 for withholding documents tied to Operation Fast and Furious, a failed effort to stop gun smuggling across the U.S. border with Mexico.
The first African-American attorney general has also tussled with critics over his handling of allegations that the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative groups, and over his department’s secret seizure of journalist telephone records.
An unabashed liberal, Holder also pushed during his tenure for stricter gun controls and for trying terrorism suspects in civilian, rather than military, courts - stances that are anathema to many conservatives.
“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,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Sadly, he has proven to be the most partisan attorney general in our history, repeatedly defying and refusing to enforce the law,” said Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a likely presidential hopeful in 2016.
Leading Democrats praised Holder as a staunch defender of civil rights on Thursday.
Obama has not announced a replacement for Holder, but whoever gets the nod will likely face a controversial confirmation process, as Thursday’s barbs previewed.
If Republicans seize control of the Senate in November’s congressional elections, the confirmation process would likely occur in the so-called lame duck period before January, while Democrats still have a majority.
But Republican Chuck Grassley, who would be in line to take over the Senate Judiciary Committee if his party wins, urged Obama to wait to nominate Holder’s successor until after the lame duck session.
Cruz said approving Holder’s replacement during the post-election congressional session “would be an abuse of power that should not be countenanced.”
And Cruz’s Texan colleague John Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican, jabbed at Holder while offering his thoughts on the type of candidate Obama should choose as a successor.
“I hope the president will nominate someone who will uphold the basic standards of honesty, transparency, and accountability that have been so glaringly absent in this Justice Department,” he said.
(This story has been refiled to fix a typographical error in first sentence)
Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by Richard Chang