Clemens case latest loss in rough ride for Holder

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder before Senate Judiciary Committee last week
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder before Senate Judiciary Committee last week
Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - One of baseball's greatest pitchers is celebrating a major victory.

A jury in Washington found Roger Clemens not guilty Monday of charges that he lied to Congress when he said he never used performance-enhancing drugs.

Outside the courtroom, Clemens became emotional talking about the charges, saying, "All of you media guys that know me and follow my career (know that I) put a lot of hard work into that career. And uh, so, again, I appreciate my teammates that came in and all the emails and phone calls."

This is one more case of federal prosecutors taking on a high-profile defendant, and losing in court. It's another bitter defeat for the Justice Department. And it's just one of the issues that has Attorney General Eric Holder on the political hot seat.

It was the second time federal prosecutors struck out in their efforts to convict Clemens.

2008: 60 Minutes interview with Roger Clemens

Defense attorneys accused the Justice Department of a witch hunt, saying 100 agents conducted more than 200 interviews attempting to prove Clemens lied to Congress when he denied using steroids.

"I have never taken steroids or HGH (human growth hormone)," Clemens told a hearing in February 2008.

And the Clemens acquittal comes just weeks after prosecutors failed to get a conviction in the case of former Senator and former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards.

The two cases cost the Department of Justice millions, and Holder has drawn heat for the high-profile failures.

But his nastiest personal fight is with Congress. It centers on "Fast and Furious," the botched gun-running sting conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Republicans accuse Holder of withholding documents that may reveal who was responsible for the debacle.

Holder defends his actions.

"I'm the attorney general who put an end to the misguided tactics that were used in 'Fast and Furious,"' he told a Senate panel last week.

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Opponents say Holder's decisions are driven by politics and aimed at defending the administration.

Now, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and scores of GOP lawmakers are calling for Holder's resignation.

"You leave me no alternative but to join those who call upon you to resign your office," Sen. John Cornyn (R, Texas) said the Senate hearing last week.

"I don't have any intention of resigning," Holder said.

Author and journalist Dan Klaidman says the attorney general is always a favorite target in an election year.

"It's a sensitive position, at the intersection of law and politics and investigations, and you're often kind of in the cross-hairs," Klaidman explains. "But Eric Holder has had a particularly rough ride."

What may leave the greatest mark on Holder's legacy is his retreat in a major terror case.

In November 2009, he vowed to try the 9/11 conspirators, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a civilian court just blocks from ground zero.

Public resistance forced Holder to scrap those plans, and return the case to military prosecutors at Guantanamo Bay.

Still, there have been major successes. Holder's Justice Department secured convictions against key terror suspects, including the "Underwear Bomber," the Times Square bomber, and the terrorist plotting to bomb New York subways.

And Justice recently has made record recoveries -- more than $4 billion -- in health care fraud cases.

Even his critics, say he's a savvy jurist, he's good on the law, he's strong on the law, (but) he seems to run into trouble with the politics.

"He'd probably be the first to say that he's not the most adept politician out there," Klaidman observed. "Over time, some of these controversies don't seem quite as important years from now."

Holder, a close friend of President Obama's, is clearly weary, but he's not expected to leave before the fall election.

He told senators the battles have been tough, but he believes he's won more than he's lost.

To see Bob Orr's report, click on the video in the player above.