By J. Andrew Curliss, staff writer
George E.B. Holding, the top federal prosecutor in Raleigh since 2006, has resigned the post and is not ruling out a candidacy to become North Carolina's attorney general next year.
Holding announced his resignation today as U.S. Attorney in Raleigh, effective July 8.
Holding's departure is not a surprise after the indictment last week of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards on campaign finance violations, charges Edwards denies. The News & Observer first reported on the planned departure of Holding in today's editions.
In an interview today, Holding told the N&O that he would consider all options for his next job, including making a challenge for the state's top law enforcement position.
Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has been North Carolina's attorney general since winning election in 2000.
Holding, 43, is a Republican with more name recognition than the most recent Republican challengers to Cooper -- Joe Knott in 2004 and Bob Crumley in 2008.
Holding previously worked for the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. And he is wealthy: Holding is a part of the family that owns First Citizens bank; his father and grandfather were both chairman of the bank. He lives in Raleigh.
But Holding has not run for a public office before.
Asked specifically if he would challenge Cooper, Holding said, "I will say that serving the people of North Carolina has been a tremendous honor. Whatever I do next will have an element of public service."
He later added: "I haven't made any decisions. And when I say public service, that doesn't necessarily mean public office."
A political consultant to Cooper, Morgan Jackson, said today that Cooper intends to seek re-election and will be gearing up for a campaign beginning later this year.
The official announcement of Holding's resignation from the Justice Department highlighted a range of efforts Holding helped lead as a prosecutor, including efforts to combat terrorism, gun crimes, drugs and fraud.
But he is perhaps best known for his involvement in bringing public corruption cases, helping to win convictions against former House Speaker Jim Black, former state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, former Congressman Frank Ballance and others.
“Our prosecutions have disrupted the culture of self-dealing and corruption that has existed in some circles among those who wield political power in Raleigh," Holding said in a statement.
Holding was appointed as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina under former President George W. Bush in June 2006. U.S. attorneys are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Previously, Holding was the second-in-command from 2002 to 2006.
Thomas Walker, a former federal prosecutor who is now with the Alston & Bird law firm in Charlotte, is in line for the post, which oversees all federal prosecutions in the eastern third of North Carolina from Raleigh to the coast.
Walker is also a former top aide to Cooper.
President Barack Obama has nominated Walker on two occasions, and the nomination is pending. Walker has declined comment because his nomination has not been taken up by the Senate.
North Carolina's two senators, Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Richard Burr, had taken steps over the past two years to keep Holding in place while the high-profile public corruption probes of Edwards and former Gov. Mike Easley were conducted by federal agents and prosecutors through secret grand juries.
Easley, a Democrat, pleaded guilty to a felony in state court late last year.
Edwards, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, was indicted Friday by a grand jury on six felony counts tied to the cover-up of an affair and resulting pregnancy of his mistress while he was seeking the White House in 2007 and 2008. Edwards says he did not break the law.
Both of those investigations were initiated under Holding, who has said that fighting terrorism and attacking public corruption were a focus of his office.
The transition from Holding to Walker hit a snag last week after the Edwards indictment was issued. Hagan announced she would return her "blue slip," which would set in motion the Senate confirmation of Walker.
But Burr, through a spokesman, said he would not immediately do the same.
Even so, Holding's role in the Edwards case was in doubt. It was filed in the Middle District of North Carolina because that is where Edwards lives. And the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, based in Washington, was leading the courtroom work.
In a brief interview this week, Holding said he did not want his status to become a distraction. The office is more important than any one person, he said.
Holding said in the interview today that he did not want to remain in the job without the bipartisan support of the state's two senators.
Holding also voiced support for Walker, saying he would do a "great job."
In a statement today, Holding said: “When a United States Attorney leaves office, he or she inevitably leaves behind unfinished business. However, every United States Attorney takes the same oath. So there should be no concern that the business of law enforcement will falter or diminish with the change in leadership.”
Burr said in a statement that he will advance Walker's nomination next week, essentially clearing the way for a new federal prosecutor in Raleigh.