“Holder is not a lackey in the mold of Bush ’43 A.G. Alberto Gonzales,” said Lloyd Green, a New York lawyer who was an aide to President George H.W. Bush. “But, Holder lacks the independence of Bush A.G. John Ashcroft and the professionalism of Holder’s immediate predecessor, former federal judge Michael Mukasey. Holder is and remains very much about politics.”

Holder has been with the White House on key questions, regardless of the ideological underpinnings: He has supported the legality of drone strikes and the raid on Osama bin Laden. He has also been the face of the high-profile fights over voting rights and Arizona’s immigration law, both of which were key to mobilizing minority voters in the 2012 election. He did break with the White House once, ignoring Rahm Emanuel’s eagerness to move forward and investigate torture under the previous administration.

“One thing that people never understood about Holder’s importance in this administration is how he has absorbed so many attacks that could otherwise land in the White House,” said one former administration official who admires the Attorney General, and noted that the Justice Department dealt with such politically unpalatable questions as the Guantanamo Bay detention center and detainee trials. “Think of the three issues he’s taken the most heat on: terrorism (KSM), race (Black Panther controversy, voting rights), and guns (Fast and Furious). Those are some of the most polarizing issues in politics, and he’s been a heat shield on all of them.”