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Specter: Holder Reminds Me of Alberto Gonzalez

8:51 AM, Jan 7, 2009 • By BRIAN FAUGHNAN
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The New York Times reports on Arlen Specter's floor speech yesterday about the nomination of Eric Holder as Attorney General, but they gave short shrift to Specter's explanation of his objections and concerns:

A leading Republican senator issued a broad attack on Tuesday on President-elect Barack Obama's pick as attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., questioning his political independence.

The senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Holder's support of the White House's stance on three contentious issues when he was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration suggested that he was too willing to do the president's bidding.

Specter's concerns were detailed and serious. They need to be fully and clearly addressed once Holder's confirmation hearings get under way next week. Specter's full statement is here:

In addition to the accomplishments on a nominee's resume, however, there is a critical qualification of character in upholding principles when tempted to yield to expediency by being a "yes man" to please a superior or to accommodate a friend. As Chairman Leahy and I noted in an op-ed we co-authored last October and published in Politico, "[I]ndependence is also an indispensable quality in an attorney general. … Regrettably, we have seen what happens when an attorney general ignores this basic tenet and considers the president, not the American people, as his principal. We must ensure that the rule of law never plays second fiddle to the partisan desires of political operatives..."

After our recent experience with Attorney General Gonzales, it is imperative that the Attorney General undertake and effectuate that responsibility of independence. Mr. Gonzales left office accused of politicizing the Justice Department, failing to restrain Executive overreaching, and being less than forthcoming with Congress...

Similarly, when Mr. Holder was serving as DAG to President Clinton, some of his actions raised concerns about his ability to maintain his independence from the president. The most widely reported incident involved the aforementioned controversial pardon of fugitive Marc Rich. Mr. Rich fled the country in 1983 after a federal grand jury in New York returned a 51-count indictment against him, his partner, and his company, which included allegations of tax evasion, fraud, and trading with the enemy (Iran, during the hostage crisis). Those charges that carried a maximum sentence of 300 years in prison. On January 20, 2001, President Clinton granted Rich a pardon that did not follow the regular pardon procedures. Mr. Rich never appeared for trial, had attempted to ship subpoenaed documents out of the country, and was still a fugitive. Prior to his pardon, he had been listed on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" fugitives list. Further tainting his pardon was the fact that his ex-wife wife had donated large sums to the Democratic Party ($867,000) and to the Clinton Library ($450,000) and had donated $66,300 to individual Democratic candidates.

On February 8 and March 1, 2001, the House Committee on Government Reform held two hearings on the pardons of Rich and others made during President Clinton's final days in office. On February 14, 2001, I chaired a full Judiciary Committee hearing on the controversial pardons. At the Judiciary Committee hearing, Roger Adams, DOJ's Pardon Attorney, testified that "none of the regular procedures … were followed" with regard to the Rich and Green pardons.

Mr. Holder testified that he was not "intimately involved" in the Rich pardon, and that he assumed that the regular procedures were being followed. Mr. Holder said that, the night before the pardon was granted, White House Counsel Beth Nolan contacted him to ask his position on the pardon request. Mr. Holder stated that he had reservations about the pardon request since Mr. Rich was still a fugitive and because it was clear that the prosecutors involved would not support the request, but he ultimately told Ms. Nolan that he was "neutral, leaning towards favorable" on the request. He testified that one factor influencing his decision was the assertion that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had weighed in strongly in favor of the request; therefore, the granting of the request might have foreign policy benefits. He made no inquiry, however, as to whether that was true...