Reports are circulating that President-elect Barack Obama is considering Eric Holder as his attorney general. Earlier in the year when Holder was placed on Obama’s VP search committee we looked at Holder’s liabilities. Those are an even greater concern now that he is considered for the country’s top law enforcement job.
You may not always agree with his political analysis but Dick Morris, perhaps better than anyone willing to talk about it, knows his Clinton-ology. Morris reminded us that Eric Holder played a leading role in one of the most infamous events of a presidency filled with infamy: the pardon of billionaire fugitive Marc Rich. Morris dubbed candidate Obama’s decision to select Holder as one of three people charged with vice-presidential vetting his “first clear, serious mistake.”
Rich, of course, was the commodities trader who fled the country in 1983 to escape prosecution for tax evasion, racketeering, and trading with the enemy. Rich’s attorneys circumvented normal procedures, took the pardon to the White House attorneys, and gained pardon for their client, whose wife just happened to be a friend and major donor to the Clinton library, the Democratic Party, and Clinton’s legal defense fund. A firestorm ensued as did congressional investigations in which Democrats as well as Republicans excoriated the Clintons’ conduct.
This was not a Republican-contrived controversy. Time reported at the onset of the hearings:
But most see this as a source of bipartisan outrage. Republicans and Democrats alike were dumbstruck by the Rich pardon. The federal prosecutors who indicted Rich are especially livid, particularly because, by definition, Rich appears to be ineligible for a pardon: He never took responsibility for his actions or served any sentence. The congressional panels were called to investigate the path to Rich’s pardon — which, as various documents seem to indicate, did not follow usual channels. In testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. pardon attorney Roger Adams says when the White House sent over Rich’s name for pardon consideration — only a few hours before the president was due to leave office — there was never any mention of Rich being a fugitive.
Rep. Henry Waxman declared that it was a “bad precedent, an end run around the judicial process, and appeared to set a double standard for the wealthy and powerful” and that had a Republican president “presided over a pardon process that resembled the chaotic mess that seemingly characterized the final days of the Clinton administration, I would be outraged and would criticize it.”
In a Senate hearing Senator Herb Kohl asked Adams how he viewed the affair:
KOHL: And in this case, do you feel good about that pardon?
ADAMS: All I can tell you, Senator, is that this case was clearly not — this was a very unusual situation. The Rich and [Rich partner Pincus] Green case were not handled anything approaching the normal way. I guess I have a parochial interest in seeing that they — I would prefer that things be handled the normal way. But when a president, for whatever reason, decides not to handle things in an orderly — in a way in conformity with the regulations, there’s very little that I can do about it.
No less than Maureen Dowd remarked that on this one the Clintons
perverted the legal system and may have traded a constitutional power for personal benefit. … The Clintons ran a cash-and-carry White House. They were either hawking stuff or carting it off.
Holder’s role is not in dispute. Without him this travesty would likely not have occurred, as described here:
Mr. Holder, the [Congressional] report says, played a major role, steering Mr. Rich’s lawyers toward Jack Quinn, a former White House counsel. Mr. Rich hired Mr. Quinn, whose Washington contacts and ability to lobby the president made the difference, according to the report. It says that Mr. Holder’s support for the pardon and his failure to alert prosecutors of a pending pardon were just as crucial. …
The panel criticized Mr. Holder’s conduct as unconscionable and cited several problems. It cited his admission last year that he had hoped Mr. Quinn would support his becoming attorney general in a Gore administration.
So to be clear, Holder helped steer the attorney for Rich, a fugitive whose pardon request would likely have been rejected through normal channels due to his status as a fugitive, to the man Holder wanted assistance with in getting his next job. Now there’s a man who knows something about conflicts of interest.
Or, as Dowd put it:
Eric Holder, former No. 2 at Justice and the latest casualty of the Clinton twister, offered lame and contradictory excuses about why he failed to rebut the argument of Jack Quinn, once Mr. Clinton’s White House counsel and Monica apologist. Meanwhile, Mr. Holder was being touted as a possible attorney general in a Gore administration, where Mr. Quinn might be chief of staff. First, Mr. Holder said he did not make a fuss because he did not know who Marc Rich was. Then he said he did not make a fuss because he assumed a pardon would not be granted to a known fugitive.
And then Holder advised the White House that on the pardon — this would be one being sought by the attorney whose help Holder was seeking to get into the Gore administration — he was “neutral, leaning toward favorable.” He made this recommendation, despite the fact that under Department of Justice guidelines, Rich would not have been eligible for a pardon until five years after completing any sentence.
This exchange with Sen. Mike DeWine captures the incredulity with which Holder’s conduct was observed by Congress:
SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: I want to make sure I understand the facts. So you did know that he was a fugitive under the facts as recited to you by Mr. Quinn?
HOLDER: Yes. I knew he was a fugitive.
DEWINE: You knew he was a fugitive, and still you said you didn’t know that you necessarily had any objection to that? Didn’t the fact that he was a fugitive bother you?
HOLDER: Sure it did. What I said to the White House counsel ultimately was that I was neutral on this because I didn’t have a factual basis to make a determination as to whether or not Mr. Quinn’s contentions were in fact accurate, whether or not there had been a change in the law, a change in the applicable Justice Department regulations, and whether or not that was something that would justify the extraordinary grant of a pardon.
DEWINE: So the fact that he was a fugitive did not take it out of the realm of possibility? You didn’t say, “Well, gee, he’s a fugitive, therefore I wouldn’t be in favor of this.” I mean, you come down you’re neutral based on the facts as given to you by Mr. Quinn. I just want to make sure I understand your rationale here, your thought process.
HOLDER: Essentially what I was trying to say, what I tried to convey, was that I didn’t have a basis to make a determination; again, assuming that what Mr. Quinn said — I mean, you’re accurate, I did not reflexively say that I was opposed to this because he was a fugitive, having had that experience with I guess Mr. Preston King, who was a fugitive and who ultimately was granted a pardon that I supported. But I did not think, given the fact that he was a fugitive, that this was ever a matter likely to be successfully concluded from Mr. Rich’s perspective.
(Holder, of course, was not merely “neutral,” but “neutral leaning toward favorable,” so his testimony in this regard was not entirely candid.)
So returning to Holder’s possible selection as Attorney General, the mind reels as to why this person, who participated in a notorious Clinton scandal and himself seemed so oblivious to his own conflict of interest, would be chosen. Is this the New Politics? Or is it a throwback to the Clinton years, the very years Obama is attempting to turn the page on, to put behind us all?
When one looks to the people Obama in turn has selected as mentors (e.g., Reverend Wright, Father Michael Pfleger), friends (e.g., Tony Rezko), and now key advisors (e.g., Eric Holder), voters may begin to question whether Obama possesses the judgment necessary to run an effective and scandal-free administration. If Holder is emblematic of Obama’s personnel decisions and an example of what is to come, the answer is “no.”