U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., the nation’s first black attorney general, will announce his resignation Thursday, ending a turbulent, six-year tenure in which his office addressed major issues, from banking scandals and terrorism to civil-rights cases.
Sources familiar with the decision said Mr. Holder intends to leave the Department of Justice as soon as his successor is confirmed, a process that could last until next year, NPR first reported.
The president is not expected to name a replacement for Mr. Holder when he formally announces the attorney general’s resignation on Thursday afternoon at the White House.
Speculation about possible successors is focusing on Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, White House is Solicitor General Donald Verrilli and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he spoke with Mr. Holder on Thursday and hopes that the Senate will be able to hold a confirmation hearing on his possible successor as soon as possible.
“I remember the day he was sworn in and the huge cheers that echoed throughout the Department of Justice, throughout the building, because they were finally getting someone who knew how the Justice Department worked,” Mr. Leahy said on MSNBC. “I’ve been here through a lot of attorneys general, no one has done it better than he has.”
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In his first few years on the job, Mr. Holder, 63, endured a succession of firestorms over, among other things, an ultimately-abandoned plan to try terrorism suspects in New York City, a botched gun-running probe along the Southwest border that prompted Republican calls for his resignation, and a perceived failure to hold banks accountable for the economic meltdown.
The House in June 2012 found Mr. Holder in contempt of Congress in a historic vote weighted with political significance — though it did little to break the stalemate over his decision to withhold documents regarding the Justice Department’s actions in a botched gunwalking operation.
The House voted 255-67 to hold Mr. Holder in criminal contempt in a vote that amounted to a political spanking for the attorney general and President Obama, underscored by the 17 Democrats who joined Republicans.
Mr. Holder has been discussing plans to step down with the president for several months, but finalized the plans earlier this month, a Justice Department source told ABC News.
He is the fourth-longest serving attorney general in U.S. history.
“The attorney general plans to express his personal gratitude to the president for the opportunity to serve in his administration and to lead the Justice Department, which he will call the ‘greatest honor of my professional life,’” the source told ABC News.
A former U.S. government official said Mr. Holder had become increasingly “adamant” about his desire to resign in order to avoid serving out the rest of President Obama’s second term, NPR reported.
Mr. Holder stayed on after President Barack Obama won re-election, turning in his final stretch to issues that he said were personally important to him. He promoted voting rights and legal benefits for same-sex couples and pushed for changes to a criminal justice system that he said meted out punishment disproportionately to minorities.
Under his watch, the Justice Department cracked down on news media reporting on national security matters. The department secretly subpoenaed phone records from Associated Press reporters and editors and used a search warrant to obtain some emails of a Fox News journalist as part of a separate leak investigation.
— This story is based in part on wire service dispatches.
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