Holding resigns today as U.S. attorney

Staff WriterJune 10, 2011 

George E.B. Holding, the top federal prosecutor in Raleigh since 2006, announced his resignation today.

Holding's departure is not a surprise after the indictment last week of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards on campaign finance violations. The News & Observer first reported on the planned departure of Holding in today's editions.

The resignation is effective July 8.

The official announcement highlighted a range of efforts Holding helped lead at the agency, including efforts to combat terrorism, gun crimes, drugs and fraud.

But he is perhaps best known for bringing public corruption cases, winning 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, a Republican, 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, who declined to comment Thursday, is also a former top aide to N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper.

President Barack Obama has nominated Walker on two occasions. The nomination is pending. But 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.

Both 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. The case 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 to become an issue. The office is more important than any one person, he said.

"I look forward to handing the keys to the office of the best law firm in North Carolina over to Thomas Walker," Holding said. "He will 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.” Reached late Thursday, Burr's spokesman David Ward said that the senator fully supports Walker.

"If George Holding were to resign, Senator Burr would return his blue slip nominating Mr. Walker," Ward said.

acurliss@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4840

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