Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., held in contempt of Congress in June after refusing to turn over documents in the failed Fast and Furious gunrunning investigation, told law students at the University of Baltimore on Thursday that he was unsure whether he would serve in the second Obama administration.
“Do I have some gas left in the tank?” Mr. Holder said during off-the-cuff remarks first reported by Reuters that were not included in his prepared speech. He told the students he needed to talk with President Obama and with his family before making any final decision.
Mr. Holder, the country’s first black attorney general, has come under increased scrutiny from House Republicans over his oversight — or lack thereof — in the Fast and Furious operation, during which more than 2,000 weapons, including AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles, were transported to drug smugglers in Mexico.
Obama administration officials have said the president would like Mr. Holder to stay, although several possible replacements have been mentioned, including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat; Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano; and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
During his speech, Mr. Holder praised the law school’s new dean, Ron Weich, saying he “had the pleasure of working closely with Ron” when Mr. Weich was a senior official at the Justice Department and had what many considered to be “one of the hardest jobs in all of government.”
Mr. Holder said he and Mr. Weich attended rival high schools in New York but both ended up at Columbia University as undergraduates.
He described Mr. Weich’s career as “remarkable,” whether in private practice; on Capitol Hill, as chief counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat; as principal legal adviser to the Senate majority leader; at the Justice Department; and, now, in academia.
“Although we miss him in Washington, I can think of no one better to help train the next generation of lawyers, leaders, advocates and public servants — whose service and contributions will help to keep the great American experiment in motion — and ensure that our nation can continue to carry out, and live up to, its founding ideals,” he said.
Mr. Weich was the Justice Department official who sent a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, falsely claiming that the department did not allow guns to be “walked” to drug smugglers in Mexico.
He told Mr. Grassley, who began Congress’ Fast and Furious probe, that accusations that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them to Mexico were “false.”
“ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation into Mexico,” Mr. Weich wrote in the Feb. 4, 2011, letter.
The Justice Department retracted that letter in December, with Mr. Holder vigorously defending Mr. Weich and the department against charges of lying to Congress. “Nobody at the Justice Department has lied,” Mr. Holder said, adding that Mr. Weich did not know the information he had provided was inaccurate.
In March, Mr. Weich refused a congressional subpoena for Fast and Furious documents, saying the department was concerned that information in them had been and would be released to the media. He said news stories had “impeded the department’s efforts to hold individuals accountable for their illegal acts.”