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Eric Holder: It's hard for me to walk away
02:52 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Eric Holder has left the building.

Hundreds of Justice Department staff and lawyers gathered in the Great Hall of the Robert F. Kennedy Building Friday to give the nation’s first African-American attorney general a send-off.

It was a more tightly-scripted version of the thunderous welcome he received in 2009 when Holder entered the building. The goodbye ceremony included a nine-minute video lauding the attorney general for his six-year tenure.

“I think we can say now Eric Holder is free,” the attorney general said to laughs, after tossing to the crowd wristbands he has been wearing as he waited months for his successor, Loretta Lynch, to win Senate approval. The wristbands, the idea of an aide, were an inside joke that read “Free Eric Holder.”

Holder was tearful, shaking hands, hugging and taking selfies with some of the crowd, which numbered about 200.

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This was his third going-away ceremony – one in February included President Barack Obama and a performance by Aretha Franklin.

As in his speech when he took office six years ago, Holder laid claim to helping restore the Justice Department’s reputation, a tacit shot at the Bush administration and the political scandal that hung over former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales after the firings of U.S. attorneys.

Holder said he was proud of the department’s work, which he said was done “free of politicization.” He told the Justice staffers they were responsible for a new “golden age” at the Justice Department.

He cited the department’s role in the Obama administration’s decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which has quickened the acceptance of same-sex marriage. He called same-sex marriage the “civil rights issue of our time.” He also lauded the department’s active role in civil rights enforcement, which has become a major focus in light of a national spate of police shootings and excessive use-of-force incidents.

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While Holder listed his accomplishments, much of the ceremony also served as a reminder of the rocky relationship he has had with Republicans, who made him the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress and who regularly used him as the stand-in to take shots at President Obama in political fights.