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Report: Eric Holder and David Axelrod Nearly Came to Blows During White House Argument


"That's bull****"

Another book on the Obama administration, and yet another story of a heated argument between its members.

The latest story focuses on Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama's campaign general, David Axelrod.

According to Daniel Klaidman’s new book, “Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency,” the two were engaged in a heated argument over accusations from Axelrod that Holder was complaining publicly about the White House's political interference in the Department of Justice (DOJ). Holder resented the charge.

The argument was specifically "over attempts to add a political official to the staff of Mr Holder," the London Telegraph says. Axelrod is said to have invoked the name of a George W. Bush official during the fracas, reportedly saying "I'm not Karl Rove."

Here's how the Telegraph describes it (retelling what's in the book):

"That's bull****," Mr Holder said in a confrontation after a cabinet meeting, according to author Daniel Klaidman. He writes: "The two men stood chest to chest. It was like a school yard fight".

The relatively mild-mannered Mr Axelrod is said to have told the attorney general: "Don't ever, ever accuse me of trying to interfere with the operations of the Justice Department", a taboo in US politics.

In 'Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency', Klaidman discloses the struggles within Mr Obama's White House at it mounted its controversial campaign against al-Qaeda.

He writes that Mr Holder and Mr Axelrod were separated by Valerie Jarrett, a White House adviser and confidante to Mr Obama. Ms Jarrett "pushed her way between the two men, her sense of decorum disturbed, ordering them to 'take it out of the hallway'," says Klaidman.

The Daily Caller has more details in a similar telling:

Klaidman writes that Axelrod, then Obama’s senior adviser, was “incensed” because he had heard that “Holder and his aides were spreading the word that he was trying to improperly influence the Justice Department.”

“Axelrod, who knew all too well that even the hint of White House meddling with Justice Department investigations could detonate a full-blown scandal, had been careful not to come close to that line,” Klaidman writes.

So after a Cabinet meeting ended, Axelrod apparently made a “beeline for the attorney general.”

“’Don’t ever, ever accuse me of trying to interfere with the operations of the Justice Department,’ he warned Holder after confronting him in the hallway,” according to Klaidman’s account.

“’I’m not Karl Rove,’ Axelrod added, referring to George Bush’s political consigliere, who had been accused of pressuring Justice to fire politically unpopular US attorneys.”

But Holder, Klaidman writes, didn’t take the verbal assault well: ”Holder did not appreciate being publicly dressed down by the president’s most senior political adviser.”

“Determined to stand his ground against Tammany Hall, the A.G. ripped into him in full view of other White House staffers. ‘That’s bullshit,’ he replied vehemently. The two men stood chest to chest. It was like a school yard fight back at their shared alma mater, Stuyvesant, the elite public high school for striving kids from New York City.”

But that's not all the book reveals. It also says, according to the Caller, that Holder was so depressed in 2010 he considered quitting.

“The loss of his mother, the continuing criticism over [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed], the lashings in the press, and Holder’s sense of isolation within the administration had turned his job into a grind,” the book alleges.

“He woke up on many mornings with a knot in his stomach, not sure if he’d be able to make it through the day. … He told [his wife] Sharon [Malone] he didn’t know if he had the emotional strength to go on as attorney general. He thought seriously about returning to his Washington law firm.”

Just as before, it was Jarrett who had to step in:

“She started by gently telling him, ‘You’re my friend and I care about you. … This will not be good for you and it will not be good for your friend, the president’ … Jarrett didn’t elaborate, but she didn’t have to. Holder understood that if he quit barely two years into Obama’s first term, it would be widely assumed that he was either driven out by Tammany Hall or that he’d quit because he was disillusioned with the administration’s refusal to back him up. His exit would have become a rallying cry for the liberal base of the party and it would damage Obama politically just as the midterm elections were looming. He had to stay.”

That account of Jarrett wielding so much power in the White House would confirm what Ed Klein has written in his book, "The Amateur," which portrays Jarrett as the political matriarch and fixer in the administration. And the argument also follows on the heels of Jodi Kantor's book detailing a fiery Roberty Gibbs, former press secretary, cursing out First Lady Michelle Obama.

Klaidman's book releases on Tuesday.

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