Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the administration’s sweeping surveillance of journalists with the Associated Press. In the greatest attack on the free press in decades, the Justice Department seized phone records for reporters and editors in at least three AP offices as well as its office in the House of Representatives. Holder, however, proceeded to claim absolute and blissful ignorance of the investigation, even failing to recall when or how he recused himself.
Yet, this was only the latest attack on the news media under Holder’s leadership. Despite his record, he expressed surprise at the hearing that the head of the Republican National Committee had called for his resignation. After all, Holder pointed out, he did nothing. That is, of course, precisely the point. Unlike the head of the RNC, I am neither a Republican nor conservative, and I believe Holder should be fired.
The ‘sin eater’
Holder’s refusal to accept responsibility for the AP investigation was something of a change for the political insider. His value to President Obama has been his absolute loyalty. Holder is what we call a “sin eater” inside the Beltway — high-ranking associates who shield presidents from responsibility for their actions. Richard Nixon had H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Ronald Reagan had Oliver North and Robert “Bud” McFarlane. George W. Bush had the ultimate sin eater: Dick Cheney, who seemed to have an insatiable appetite for sins to eat.
This role can be traced to 18th century Europe, when families would use a sin eater to clean the moral record of a dying person by eating bread from the person’s chest and drinking ale passed over his body. Back then, the ritual’s power was confined to removing minor sins.
For Obama, there has been no better sin eater than Holder. When the president promised CIA employees early in his first term that they would not be investigated for torture, it was the attorney general who shielded officials from prosecution. When the Obama administration decided it would expand secret and warrantless surveillance, it was Holder who justified it. When the president wanted the authority to kill any…