CNN Justice Producer
Only minutes into his reign at the Justice Department the new Attorney General displayed the casual, affable style for which he was known—and widely appreciated—by career employees from legal scholars to rookie secretaries during his stint as Deputy Attorney General during President Clinton’s second term. So, the huge ovation he received upon his arrival was not surprising. Holder was a popular choice within the Justice Department community when he was nominated, including the important backing of both former FBI Director Louis Freeh and current FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Holder took lots of time to shake every hand, take every picture, greet every employee who attended the swearing in. Then without hesitation he waded into the bevy of Justice-based journalists and comfortably began to chat and joke. He provided no important news, but the accessibility was a remarkable change from eight years during which Attorneys General John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, and Michael Mukasey had largely kept the press at arm’s length.
As if to accentuate the difference in style, hours later Holder wandered unannounced into the Justice Department press room and plopped down for more give and take. As we watched the CNN monitors with the news that Tom Daschle had resigned, the Attorney General said he’d been too busy to watch any TV news on his first day and he wasn’t quite up to speed on the day’s events. Holder wasn’t sure whether he liked the formal full-length picture of himself which a reporter had torn from a magazine and posted in the press room. But he was at ease with the journalists—both newcomers to the beat, as well as a couple of us old-timers who had been here during his first go-around. This time he’s the boss, and he won’t have to worry that Janet Reno is on the fifth floor wondering why her deputy was chatting with the press.
Holder had begun his day boldly declaring “a new day,” and vowing to “remake the Department of Justice.”
“It was a bit over the top,” a Holder friend admitted. And Holder himself acknowledged that departing Attorney General Mike Mukasey and his deputy Mark Filip who are both well respected had quietly worked effectively for more than a year to restore a sense of unity and purpose in the Department. Democrats on Capitol Hill in particular tend to whip Gonzales for ruining the Justice Department, but ignore Mukasey and Filip’s rebuilding efforts. “They just didn’t have the luxury of time”, Holder said. The Attorney General knows his department well, and knows most of it is not “broken”. He also knows there will be many long, hard days starting Wednesday. But Day One, was a day to kick back, embrace his many new employees, get re-acquainted former colleagues, and enjoy his new view from the pinnacle of the world of federal law enforcement.
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