Nineteen years ago this month, Eric Holder was having a very different spring in Washington. It wasn’t cruel or grueling. Conservatives didn’t want his scalp and liberals didn’t think he was trampling on civil liberties. In 1994, Holder was just into his tenure as the federal prosecutor for Washington, D.C. The 43-year-old had come to the U.S. Attorney’s job with the credentials of a quiet careerist, joining the Department of Justice in 1976 and serving 12 years as a prosecutor before Ronald Reagan appointed Holder to be an associate judge in D.C. Superior Court in 1988.
As U.S. Attorney, Holder took over the prosecution of Dan Rostenkowski–“Rosty,” the Boss, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. And Washington asked: Would this tall, thin, mild-mannered guy who everyone knew at the courthouse be able to put Rosty away–especially now that Holder had been appointed by a Democratic president who needed the lawmaker behind the passage of so many bills? Rosty’s lawyer, the famed Bob Bennett, knew Holder, understood how tough he was and begged his client, the Chicago pol, to take a deal. Rosty refused and fired Bennett. That was a bad idea. Holder issued a searing 17-count indictment for everything from putting ghost jobs on his payroll to embezzling from the House Post Office.