Attorney General Eric Holder canceled an appearance before the Oklahoma City Police Department’s graduating cadet class Thursday amid angry protests over his scheduled visit.
Mr. Holder was expected to deliver remarks at the afternoon graduation ceremony, according to his official itinerary sent out by the Justice Department Thursday morning.
A Justice Department spokesman denied that the trip was canceled because of the possibility of a hostile reception. An early meeting at the Justice Department delayed Mr. Holder’s departure from Washington, causing him to miss the graduation ceremony, spokesman Brian Fallon said in an email.
“The attorney general had been looking forward to addressing the cadets, and regrets he cannot attend in person,” Mr. Fallon said. “He extends his heartfelt congratulations to the cadets and their families.”
But Mr. Holder’s scheduled visit to Oklahoma City drew the criticism of several conservative lawmakers who planned the protest in anticipation of his arrival, including Republican state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, who has said he believes that Mr. Holder should be impeached.
“Our protest has turned into a victory celebration because we frankly didn’t want him here — and we succeeded,” Mr. Wesselhoft said in an interview. “This man has used his position to advance his own political agenda and that’s not right. He swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution and defend it for all of us — not some of us.”
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Carla Russell, one of the about 100 activists who came out for the rally, held a sign that read: “Holder is a Terrorist.”
“He’s not coming because he’s a chicken,” Mrs. Russell told the Red Dirt Report, a local news website. “And he doesn’t want to be recorded with people protesting against him with signs like mine.”
The Justice Department announced Wednesday its plans to overhaul the clemency and pardon process for jailed inmates, possibly leading to thousands of prisoners being released from federal penitentiaries. The move was made in part to right what it views as an unfair justice system, officials said. That rationale didn’t sit well with the protesters in Oklahoma City, according to Mr. Wesselhoft.
“There’s a number of articles that can be brought for impeachment,” he said, citing the many controversial decisions that Mr. Holder has made during his tenure, including his handling of issues such as the clemency guidelines, the IRS scandal and the botched Fast and Furious gun-walking program.
In 2012 Mr. Holder was held in contempt of Congress — the first time ever for a sitting Cabinet member — for failing to provide key information about Operation Fast and Furious.
Earlier this month, Texas lawmakers railed against the attorney general in a House of Representatives oversight hearing, telling him in front of a Capitol Hill crowd that not only should he be held in contempt, but that he should be sitting in a jail cell.
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Republicans say Mr. Holder has refused to comply with several subpoenas issued from Congress for documents related to the Fast and Furious operation and completely ignored a criminal contempt citation that members of the House issued against him months ago.
Mr. Holder’s view is that he has released all the pertinent documents, as requested, and complied with congressional investigators.
In the hearing, Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold said: “I’m committed to maintaining the constitutional balance of power and the authority that this legislative branch has, and I just don’t think it’s appropriate that Mr. Holder be here. If an American citizen had not complied with one of the Justice Department’s subpoenas, they would be in jail and not sitting here in front of me testifying.”
Mr. Holder has vented his own frustrations in public, telling a civil rights gathering in New York City earlier this month shortly after the hearing, “What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?