By Leigh Ann Caldwell, Jim Acosta and Pamela Brown
WASHINGTON (CNN – Sept. 25, 2014) — Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday that he will resign after six years at the helm of the Justice Department.
Holder has agreed to remain in his post until the confirmation of his successor.
“In the months ahead I will leave the Department of Justice,” Holder said at the White House, thanking President Barack Obama for the “greatest honor of my professional life.”
Though he’s stepping down, Holder said that “he will never leave the work.”
“I will continue to serve and try to find ways to make our nation even more true to its founding ideals,” he said, without offering any specifics.
Obama stood next to Holder in the White House State Dining Room, praising the first African-American to serve as attorney general and who made civil rights and equal rights central components to his tenure at Justice.
The President noted that his department prosecuted hundreds of terror cases, “rooted out corruption and fought violent crime,” tackled financial fraud and “attacks on the Voting Rights Act.” Obama said Holder also helped to bring down the crime rate and incarceration rate by 10% over the last six years.
“Eric has done a superb job,” Obama said. “I just want to say thank you.”
In a telephone interview with CNN’s Evan Perez before the official announcement, Holder said he never intended to stay for the duration of Obama’s second term. He said now was the appropriate time to step down — a time when things are going smoothly at the department.
“I’m confident we’re in a good place,” Holder said. “Now was a good time to go [with] those accomplishments in the last few years in place.”
He points to Justice’s role in the aftermath of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He has also stated that protecting voters’ rights and gay rights, easing federal drug sentencing rules that he argues disproportionately burden minorities and defending the use of criminal courts to try terrorist suspects are critical issues.
“I think I go out having accomplished a great deal in the areas that are of importance to me. I’m satisfied with the work we have done,” he said.
Holder has discussed his plans to step down personally with the President on multiple occasions in recent months, and finalized those plans in an hour-long conversation with Obama at the White House residence over Labor Day weekend, an Obama administration official said.
Holder noted that he has loved the Justice Department since, when he was a boy, he watched how — under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy — the Justice Department played a leadership role in advancing the civil rights movement. During his tenure as attorney general, Holder has had Kennedy’s portrait in his conference room.
Holder also has been criticized as being overtly political, and some Republican members of Congress are shedding few tears over his resignation.
For instance, Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina tweeted, “Good riddance Eric Holder. Your disregard for the Constitution of the United States will not be missed.”
House Speaker John Boehner released a similar statement, saying Holder’s resignation is “long overdue.”
Some congressional Republicans have accused the attorney general of defying the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck down a component of the Voting Rights Act, and they investigated him over Operation Fast and Furious.
In Fast and Furious, the so-called gun-walking operation, roughly 2,000 guns were allowed into Mexico with the goal of tracking them to Mexican drug cartels. Two guns found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s fatal shooting in December 2010 were linked to the operation.
In June 2012, the House voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents linked to that operation.
Upon hearing the news of Holder’s resignation, House Oversight Committee Chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, who lead the contempt proceedings, called Holder “the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history.”
But Holder has his supporters, including the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I particularly appreciate how Attorney General Holder has restored the Civil Rights Division to its historical mission,” Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said.
Leahy also pointed to the attorney general’s work on sentencing reforms and efforts to reduce recidivism rates.
Those sentiments were echoed by Rep. Marcia Fudge, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. She said Holder’s departure “will leave a significant void in this administration and in our nation.”
The attorney general is one of only three remaining members of Obama’s original Cabinet.
In 2013, Holder described his first meeting with Obama, which occurred just after Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.
“I sat next to him at this dinner and we just started talking about a variety of things, sports among them and criminal justice issues. And we saw that we had a lot of similar views and so we just started a relationship that was casual,” Holder said.
Holder was sworn in as the 82nd attorney general in February 2009 after serving as President Bill Clinton’s deputy attorney general, the first African-American to serve in that position.
Previously, the Columbia Law School graduate was U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and served during President Ronald Reagan’s administration as an associate judge at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
CNN’s Deirdre Walsh and Paul Courson contributed to this report.