WASHINGTON (CNN) - Two months after Attorney General Eric Holder was widely criticized for his assertion that Americans are a "nation of cowards" for not openly discussing race, Holder said Wednesday he now sees some movement.
"I think there is a dialogue going on. But I'm still worried the comfort level isn't there," Holder told the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Holder told the organization's luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington the discomfort is particularly evident on the subject of affirmative action. He said citizens are reluctant to speak out, fearing that they'll be "seen as a racist."
Holder said he supports affirmative action and sees it as a way "to encourage diversity where everyone wins."
The attorney general said he believes career civil rights lawyers were "cut out of the process" in important decision-making by political appointees in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division during the Bush Administration, and wants that process reversed.
Holder, the nation's first African-American attorney general, said the election of Barack Obama reflects progress in race relations, but said statistics continue to show there is still a need for extending voting rights laws aimed at fighting discrimination.
"There are still battles to be fought, still hurdles to be overcome," he said.
Holder declined to comment on the case of former FBI agent Donald Rochon, who won a high profile lawsuit over alleged racial discrimination in the bureau, and is now challenging the FBI over his retirement benefits.
"All I know is what I've read in the paper about it," Holder said.
On other subjects, the attorney general:
–said he does not know where Guantanamo Bay detainees will be placed, and that no decisions have been made.
–promised Justice officials will follow the evidence and the law to determine whether Bush administration officials will be prosecuted, and "we'll see how things develop."
–asserted Vice President Cheney is "dead wrong" in claiming the country is less safe under the Obama administration. "We are as safe now as we have ever been," he said.