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Republicans Point to Attorney General Candidate Holder's Role in Clinton Pardons

Eric H. Holder Jr., a former Justice Department official who served as President-elect Barack Obama's campaign co-chairman, is the leading candidate to serve as the next U.S. attorney general, according to Democratic sources.

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By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Republican National Committee yesterday highlighted the role of attorney general candidate Eric H. Holder Jr. in controversial 2001 pardons, but GOP senators avoided direct attacks on Barack Obama's leading choice to lead the Justice Department.

Republican congressional aides said no information had emerged that would disqualify Holder, a former D.C. Superior Court judge and U.S. attorney in the District, from serving as the nation's top law enforcement officer. But Capitol Hill aides from both sides of the aisle nonetheless hauled out seven-year-old hearing records to refresh their memories about Holder's inability to prevent a presidential pardon for fugitive Marc Rich on the final day of the Clinton administration.

On its own, the pardon issue is unlikely to derail Holder's bid for the post, if he is, as expected, formally nominated to become the first black attorney general, four congressional sources representing both political parties said yesterday.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) noted that Holder won confirmation in 1997 as the department's second in command without a single negative vote, and he predicted a similar outcome.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the second-ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel, told reporters late yesterday that he would support Holder and said the pardon issue would not outweigh Holder's reputation and experience.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) told home-state reporters yesterday that Holder, 57, has impeccable credentials. But he said he would reserve judgment until he sifted through congressional testimony about the pardons.

"It's going to be much more controversial than a new administration ought to try to put forth," Grassley said, according to a transcript on his Web site.

Holder has acknowledged that during a busy period while serving as acting attorney general under President Bill Clinton, he did not spend enough time reviewing a pardon petition filed by politically connected lawyers for Rich. Rich was charged with evading more than $48 million in taxes, and he fled to avoid trial. His ex-wife was a prolific donor to the Democratic Party.

In February 2001, Holder testified about the issue in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, facing fierce questions from Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.). Committee Democrats later cited Holder for "bad judgment" but rejected tougher sanctions.

Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney in the District and a self-avowed "lifelong Republican," said yesterday that he would testify about Holder's sterling credentials and temperate judgment at a possible confirmation hearing.

"He is one of the most singularly well-qualified people to ever be nominated to serve as attorney general," diGenova said. ". . . If the Republicans go after him, they're going to make a terrible mistake."

Prominent members of the law enforcement community also voiced support. William Bratton, chief of the Los Angeles police and a former New York police commissioner, said Holder has an intimate knowledge of local policing that most previous attorney generals lacked.


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