Holder previously served as a judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and a United States Attorney. While a U.S. Attorney, he prosecuted Congressman Dan Rostenkowski (D–Illinois) for corruption charges related to his role in the Congressional Post Office scandal.
Later, he was Deputy Attorney General of the United States and worked at the law firm of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. He was senior legal advisor to Barack Obama during Obama's presidential campaign and one of three members of Obama's vice-presidential selection committee. During the Fast and Furious investigation, he became the only cabinet member in U.S. history to be held in contempt of Congress.
On September 25, 2014, the Justice Department announced Holder would resign when his successor was confirmed.
From 2001 until he became Attorney General, Holder worked as an attorney at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C., representing clients such as Merck and the National Football League.
He represented the NFL during its dog fighting investigation against Michael Vick.
In 2004, Holder helped negotiate an agreement with the Justice Department for Chiquita Brands International in a case that involved Chiquita's payment of "protection money" to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a group on the U.S. government's list of terrorist organizations. In the agreement, Chiquita's officials pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $25 million. Holder represented Chiquita in the civil action that grew out of this criminal case. In March 2004, Holder and Covington & Burling were hired by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to act as a special investigator to the Illinois Gaming Board.
During his years in private practice, Holder represented the Swiss private bank UBS. Because of this, he recused himself from participating in the Department of Justice investigation of UBS's abetting of tax evasion by U.S. account-holders and the prosecution of Brad Birkenfeld.
After the U.S. government filed suit against the Swiss bank UBS AG, whom Holder had represented during his time in private practice, the attorney general recused himself from all legal matters concerning the bank, which stands accused of conspiracy in U.S. tax fraud.
Under Holder, the Justice Department has legally argued that journalists have no legal protection to maintain the confidentiality of their sources, and can be compelled by the government to reveal them, or potentially face criminal contempt charges.
...Refusal to prosecute financial institutions
On March 6, 2013, Holder testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the size of large financial institutions has made it difficult for the Justice Department to bring criminal charges when they are suspected of crimes, because such charges can threaten the existence of a bank and therefore their interconnectedness may endanger the national or global economy. "Some of these institutions have become too large,” Holder told the Committee, “It has an inhibiting impact on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate."
In a January 29, 2013 letter to Holder, Senators Sherrod Brown and Charles Grassley had criticized this Justice Department policy citing "important questions about the Justice Department's prosecutorial philosophy." After receipt of a DoJ response letter, Brown and Grassley issued a statement saying, "The Justice Department's response is aggressively evasive. It does not answer our questions. We want to know how and why the Justice Department has determined that certain financial institutions are 'too big to jail' and that prosecuting those institutions would damage the financial system."
Holder has financial ties to at least one law firm benefiting from de facto immunity to prosecution. Prosecution rates against crimes by large financial institutions are at 20-year lows. Holder has also endorsed the notion that prosecutors, when deciding to pursue white-collar crimes, should give special consideration to "collateral consequences" of bringing charges against large corporate institutions, as outlined in a 1999 memorandum by Holder. Nearly a decade later Holder, as head of the Department of Justice, put this into practice and has demonstrated the weight "collateral consequences" has by repeatedly sought and reached deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements and settlements with large financial institutions such as J.P. Morgan Chase, HSBC, Countrywide Mortgage, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and others where the institution pays a fine or penalty but faces no criminal charges and admits no wrongdoing. Whereas in the previous decade the Bush administration's Department of Justice often sought criminal charges against individuals of large institutions regardless of "collateral consequences" such as cases involving Enron, Adelphia Communications Corporation, Tyco International, and others.
In September 2014, he described the department's rationale in a speech at New York University:
"Responsibility remains so diffuse, and top executives so insulated," Holder said, "that any misconduct could again be considered more a symptom of the institution's culture than a result of the willful actions of any single individual."