After nearly six years in office, Attorney General Eric Holder is resigning his post. Over his tenure, Holder has attracted words like "embattled," "controversial," and "scandal-plagued". He's also been lauded as a civil-rights pioneer in the Justice Department.
At a press conference at the White House on Thursday, President Obama praised Holder for his service as one of the longest-serving attorneys general in U.S. history. Since being appointed as a federal judge by President Reagan, Holder has served under six presidents of both parties.
"This is bittersweet," Obama said Thursday. "I chose him to serve as attorney general because he believes, as I do, that justice is not just an abstract theory. It's a living, breathing principle."
Holder, whose family vacations with the president's on Martha's Vineyard, is one of Obama's closest friends in the White House. The president's admiration and personal fondness for Holder was apparent in his speech Thursday.
Among Holder's achievements, Obama credited him with "rooting out" corruption, fighting violent crime, and "reinvigorating" the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
"It's a pretty good track record," the president said.
The point about Holder's civil-rights work was particularly poignant on Thursday, the same day Michael Brown's parents appeared in Washington to talk about the death of their son. In August, Holder visited Ferguson, Mo., to address racial tensions there.
National Public Radio's Carrie Johnson broke the story of Holder's resignation Thursday morning.
In an emotional farewell speech, Holder called his time as attorney general the "greatest honor of my professional life." He choked up talking about his parents' influence on him, and thanked his wife and family for the "sacrifices" they made during his time in the White House.
"I come to this moment with very mixed emotions," Holder said. "In the months ahead, I will leave the Department of Justice—but I will never leave the work. I will continue to serve and try to find ways to make our nation even more true to its founding ideals."
But Holder's critics on the right and left felt some vindication. In a statement Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz took Holder to task over DOJ's handling of the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative tea-party groups.
"It is good news that Eric Holder has announced his resignation. Sadly, he has proven to be the most partisan attorney general in our history, repeatedly defying and refusing to enforce the law," Cruz said. "For two years now, the Department has obstructed justice and impeded any fair investigation of the IRS's abuse of power; in response to Holder's partisan dereliction of duty, I publicly called for his impeachment."
Civil-liberties advocates have also criticized Holder for his handling of the National Security Agency's mass data-collection programs. During his tenure, DOJ filed a lawsuit against Fox News reporter James Rosen, and spied on Associated Press reporters' phone calls.
Obama praised Holder for his work helping Americans in the pursuit of happiness. Now, away from the spotlight, Obama said Holder and his family will be "freer to pursue a little more happiness of their own."