When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was serving as deputy attorney general at the Justice Department under then-president Bill Clinton, he refused to endorse a local initiative in Richmond, Virginia, credited by locals for dramatically reducing gun violence in their city.
The plan, called “Project Exile,” was partially the brainchild of then U.S. Attorney Jim Comey – who is now the FBI director. The idea behind Project Exile was to federally prosecute felons caught with an illegal gun thereby sending them away for five years to federal prison, without plea bargaining and no parole, if convicted. The program has been cited by local officials for changing criminal behavior and reducing homicides by one-half in just one year.
At the time of Project Exile, Mr. Holder called the program a “cookie-cutter” approach to fighting crime, and said it was “fundamentally wrong” to earmark funds for enforcing federal gun laws. He also said the effort was largely made successful because Justice had sent additional Federal marshals, agents and prosecutors to the region.
District court judges, also attacked the program, criticizing it as “a substantial federal incursion into a sovereign state’s area of authority and responsibility.”
Kent Marcus, who was U.S. attorney general Janet Reno’s top aide on gun-violence at the time of Project Exile dismissed the program as an “assembly line” of prosecutions that bled resources from other law-enforcement priorities, such as organized crime and high-level drug trafficking.
Mr. Holder’s reluctance to promote the program as a solution to gun violence led Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican and ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to voice concern during Mr. Holder’s confirmation hearing in 2009.
“I’m concerned about Mr. Holder’s reluctance to expand programs that enforce current gun laws, such as ‘Project Exile,’” Mr. Grassley said. “I don’t understand why Mr. Holder is willing to consider the need for new gun laws and regulations, when we could be embracing a nationwide expansion of a proven, successful program enforcing existing gun laws.”