ATLANTA — Former Attorney General Eric Holder said the Trump administration's contacts with Russian officials could erupt into a full-blown scandal.
"I think we have the makings of potentially a scandal, certainly a controversy, the likes of which we have not seen for many years," Holder said Wednesday in an interview at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, where he was delivering a speech on race.
Holder called for a full investigation into the contacts between Donald Trump's team and Russian officials — contacts that have already led to the downfall of Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who resigned Monday night.
"Exactly what the nature of the contact was between the Trump campaign and people in Russia — be it the intelligence authorities or in the Russian government — I think really needs to be fully explored and to be done in an impartial way, an unbiased way," Holder said in the sit-down interview. "The American people are entitled to know exactly what happened there so that judgments can be made about the roles of various people."
"I think we have the makings of potentially a scandal, certainly a controversy, the likes of which we have not seen for many years."
Holder, who served as attorney general under former President Barack Obama, said that having current Attorney General Jeff Sessions lead the investigation "poses a potential conflict," but declined to say whether Sessions should recuse himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign's communications with Russia.
Sessions — who was a top supporter of Trump's candidacy, served as a surrogate during the campaign and has been the "ideological leader" of Trump's populist movement — was confirmed last week as the nation's top law enforcement official.
"I think the investigation needs to be done fairly, I think it needs to be impartial," Holder said. "There are justice department regulations that really handle these kinds of situations so I think the new attorney general needs to look at those regulations, make a determination about the role he played in the campaign, what his degree of knowledge is with regard to these potential interactions between the Russian government and the Trump campaign and then make up his own mind as to whether or not he should recuse himself."
Other Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, are calling for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigation.
"Sen. Sessions must follow Department of Justice guidance and recuse himself," Schumer said Wednesday at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
In the interview with Mic, Holder expressed worry about the direction of the country under Trump's presidency.
"I'm very concerned," Holder said. "I think that something has been loosed in our country that gives me great concern in the sense that there is a spirit of disunity, a questioning of some of our fundamental values."
"I'm worried about the spread of hate, and about the rise of racism."
"I'm worried about the spread of hate, and about the rise of racism and the negativity that we see here," Holder said, adding that the Trump administration would have to address these societal ills.
"You can't govern a nation by dividing it," Holder said. "The best way in which you govern a nation is by bringing it together, by uniting it. And I'm not sure that I see that just yet."
Feb. 15, 2017, 6:25 p.m.: This story has been updated.