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Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder says that it is difficult to leave the service of a president with whom he shares a “special bond” but that the time is right for his departure from the job.
“I don’t like the idea that necessarily I’m leaving before the end of his term, but it’s the right time for me to go,” he said in an interview with NBC’s Pete Williams.
In an extensive, wide-ranging discussion, Holder said that his work on voting rights and LGBT issues was among his most rewarding, and he did not shy away from speaking about how systemic tensions between black and white Americans still impact law enforcement – and the nation as a whole.
The first African-American attorney general, Holder is ending his tenure just as he has become the administration’s point person in Ferguson, Missouri, where racial tensions flared after a police officer fatally shot an unarmed teenager.
He described in stark language how he believes fear and misunderstanding fuel tensions between minority communities and the police.
"Communities of color don't understand what it means to be a police officer, the fear that police officers have in just being on the streets," he said. "When it comes to police officers, I have concerns about the training that they receive. This whole notion of implicit bias, looking at people and having stereotypical reactions to them on the basis of their ethnicity."
Holder, who said in 2009 that America is “a nation of cowards” on discussions of race, said that he still believes the country struggles to address racial issues head on.
“I still think that we have a hesitance to talk about things racial,” he said. “And I think we do it at our detriment. We go from incident to incident and we have spikes in which race becomes something that we talk about, as opposed to talking about race in those less contentious times when I think we might make more progress.”
"In some ways I am a stand in, a surrogate for the president."
Holder’s tenure at the Department of Justice was sometimes rocky. Republican lawmakers called for his resignation over the Fast and Furious gun running operation and the IRS targeting scandal, and he was the first sitting Cabinet official in U.S. history to be held in contempt of Congress.
Holder suggested Friday that he was treated more harshly by Congress than his predecessors, saying that “in some ways I am a stand in, a surrogate for the president.”
“The level of vehemence that has been directed my way, I think is perhaps a little different than other Attorneys General have to deal with,” he added.
And he offered a curt farewell to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, the outspoken GOP lawmaker who led Republican calls for his ouster.
“There are a few people on the Hill that I’m not going to miss an awful lot and I think I would probably put him in that category,” Holder said.