Eric Holder On Priorities For Next Attorney General As Election Day draws near, the presidential campaigns are preparing for any legal challenges that may arise. For more, Farai Chideya talks with Eric Holder, senior legal advisor to the Obama campaign.
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Eric Holder On Priorities For Next Attorney General

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Eric Holder On Priorities For Next Attorney General

Eric Holder On Priorities For Next Attorney General

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From NPR News, this is News & Notes, I'm Farai Chideya.

The war on terror, the likely closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, investigations of whether illegal activities helped trigger the financial crisis. The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer in the United States. Whoever gets that job with the next administration is going to be plenty busy.

So what do we know at this point about how the two campaigns are thinking about their legal strategies? In a few minutes, we talk to George Terwilliger, a legal advisor to the McCain campaign. But now we're joined by Eric Holder. He was a deputy attorney general during the Clinton Administration, now he's a senior advisor and senor legal counsel to the Obama campaign. How are you doing?

Mr. ERIC HOLDER (Senior Advisor & Senior Legal Counsel to the Obama Campaign): Well I'm doing fine, thanks for having me on the show.

CHIDEYA: So we're less than two weeks away from Election Day and both sides in this campaign have assembled an army of lawyers to help prepare for a possible contested election, hopefully not. Five thousand lawyers in Florida alone will reportedly be on hand, looking out for the Obama campaign's interest.

Mr. HOLDER: Right.

CHIDEYA: So what sort of challenges is your team preparing for?

Mr. HOLDER: Well I mean, we're preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. We're hoping that there will not be anything by way of voter suppression efforts, where people will be challenged unnecessarily, or impediments will be placed in front of people who want to exercise the right to vote.

The campaign has gotten out a substantial number of people who are voting for the first time. We've energized people who have not voted in a great while, these people who might not be familiar with their rights as voters, and we want to make sure that everybody who wants to get there has an opportunity to vote. And that's why we've been emphasizing that people in the 31 states that allow it actually get out there and vote early.

CHIDEYA: Now you served as deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration and your name has been listed as a possibility for attorney general in an Obama administration, if there is one. If that happens, if he's elected, and if you're offered the position, would you take it?

Mr. HOLDER: I think we're getting way, way in front of ourselves. I mean at this point, my only concern is making sure that Tuesday, November the 4th goes well, and that we have a result that I think the majority of the American people are going to be very happy with, and that is that Barack Obama becomes the next president of the United States - and he changes the course of this country. And at that point, it will be up to the president to decide what he wants to do with his cabinet, and you know, decisions will be made at that point.

CHIDEYA: Take us inside the campaign for one second. Is there a sense - Senator Obama has been looking out for his own family, his grandmother's ailing. Is there a sense of urgency right now, that everything that you've had to do to prepare is all going to be put in play at any moment, and do you feel ready?

Mr. HOLDER: Yeah, we feel ready. We think that we have planned for, you know, all the contingencies that we can anticipate. And then we tried to figure out what are those things that, you know, what are kind of off the wall things that we might have to deal with.

You know, Barack is, as you said, going to be in Hawaii for at least a couple of days to see his grandmother, a woman who he cares obviously a great deal about. But while he's gone, the rest of us are still here preparing, making sure that we are successful in our get out the vote effort, making sure that we encourage people to vote early, and making sure that for those people who vote on November the 4th, they'll have the opportunity to cast their votes.

People are going to have to wait in lines, and I don't there is any question about that. I suspect we're going to see record numbers of voters, and so people are going to have to be patient. But our hope is that everybody who wants to vote will get that opportunity to do so in a way that is least burdensome to them.

CHIDEYA: OK. A policy point. You had been outspoken about the need in your opinion to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camps, without delay.

Mr. HOLDER: Right.

CHIDEYA: Why are advocating for that? And what other issues do you see as top issues for this country to deal with?

Mr. HOLDER: Well, I think Guantanamo - the utility of Guantanamo has long since passed. It is a place now that has given, I think, this nation a black eye around the world. It has an impact on our ability to interact with our allies. It certainly gives fuel to our adversaries, who would say that we are a nation that is not governed by law. And so I think the need for it to be closed and to come up with alternatives is pretty clear.

And then when you look at the other issues that I think the next president is going to have to deal with, chief among them is going to be trying to revitalize and remake a justice department that has been really sullied in the last four, eight years or so by people who tried to politicize. And I want to make very clear, I am excluding the present attorney general, I think is doing a good job, and as well the people who served as deputy attorney general, I think have done a good job. But other people at the justice department have not necessarily done what has always happened under Republican and Democratic administrations, where the department has essentially been seen as something not political, and really kind of left to its own. That was not the case in this past administration.

CHIDEYA: All right, last question briefly. What role should the attorney general play in unraveling what happened during the financial crisis, or the build up to this financial crisis?

Mr. HOLDER: Well, I think some really intense, vigorous investigation needs to be done to see if any laws were broken, and we're facing the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression and to the extent, people have done anything, either by fraud, conspiracy or broken any federal laws, I think that needs to be uncovered and people need to be held accountable.

The United States taxpayers, people are going to be paying substantial amounts of money for a good many years in order to make this thing better and to, you know, prevent this thing from getting worse. And to the extent that people have profited illegally, or done things illegally, they need to be found out and they need to be prosecuted. And I think that should be a priority for the next attorney general.

CHIDEYA: Well I want to thank you so much for your time, appreciate it.

Mr. HOLDER: Well thanks for having me.

CHIDEYA: That was Eric Holder, senior advisor and senior legal counsel to the Obama campaign. He was also a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.

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