Eric Holder Jr

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Klaidman

The attorney general of the United States on investigating torture, closing Guantanamo -- and a certain former vice president.

Klaidman: The last time I saw Sharon [Malone, Holder's wife], she had this to say about you -- Holder: Uh-oh.

"He sees himself as the nice guy, but when he leaves the nice guy behind, that's when he's strongest." Accurate? That's an interesting quote. I think that I try to be a consensus builder, but that ultimately what drives me is a sense of responsibility and a desire to do what's right, and if that means I have to do things that people are going to find unpopular, I'm prepared to do that. Like ordering the preliminary investigation into torture.

You leave the nice guy behind when Rahm Emanuel's around? I can always be nice with Rahm. He's always nice with me.

Since we're on the subject of being strong, your critics think that you and this administration are not tough enough on terrorism. Those comments are belied by the facts. We have disrupted plots where we have found them. There are things that we have done we can't discuss, but which have been successful. We've spent a huge amount of time and energy in making sure that we are prepared for what our enemies might try to do next. We have done things that [our critics] might not have thought were right, but [that] we think ultimately will make the American people more safe, like closing Guantanamo.

I'm going to read a quote from President Obama. This is from the National Archives speech: "We uphold our most cherished values, not only because doing so is right, but because it strengthens our country and it keeps us safe. Time and again, our values have been our best national-security asset." By that definition, did Vice President Cheney's vision make us less strong and less safe? I think we are strongest when we adhere to what has always made this country great, adhering to the rule of law, following our moral precepts, and we are weakest when we have failed to do that. Great presidents have sometimes deviated from that path. Roosevelt did, with regard to the internment of the Japanese. Lincoln did, to some degree, with regard to the whole question of suspending habeas corpus. And I think the past administration, though they were under enormous pressure after 9/11, made some mistakes.

Is that a yes? Did those policies make us less strong and less safe? I think that those policies left us with some rebuilding to do, both in terms of the relationships that we have around the world and rebuilding the mechanisms that we use in order to keep this country safe and that are consistent with our values.

There's been this troubling rash of arrests and foiled terror plots in recent weeks. The conventional wisdom for a long time has been that in this country, because of opportunities to rise up the socioeconomic ladder, Muslim Americans have not been vulnerable to this kind of extremism. And clearly, we're still talking about small numbers. But are you more worried about the threat of homegrown terrorism and Islamic extremism in this country? Yes. What we've seen in the recent past, I think, is an indication of one of the things that we're going to have to be most concerned about in the future, this self-radicalization of American citizens or people who reside in the United States. They have too often come under the influence of people who have misinterpreted Islam.

As you see it, what's the most important difference between this administration's approach to combating terrorism and the previous administration's? I think that too often the past administration is now seen through the voice of one person. And that's not necessarily, I think, reflective of --

Are you talking about the president or -- No, I'm talking about the vice president. And I'm not sure that accurately reflects where the prior administration was. So there is that caveat. …