When It Comes to Holder, Specter Has Reservations

The congressional panel overseeing the Wall Street bailout is planning to hold a series of hearings. First stop: Where else? Vegas, baby!
The congressional panel overseeing the Wall Street bailout is planning to hold a series of hearings. First stop: Where else? Vegas, baby! (By Ethan Miller -- Getty Images)
By Al Kamen
Friday, December 12, 2008

A plan by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold confirmation hearings Jan. 8 for Eric H. Holder Jr., the nominee for attorney general, is coming under fire from committee Republicans.

The panel's ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), appeared on the Senate floor Wednesday to call for a delay of at least two more weeks to review Holder's record as a local judge, federal prosecutor and then deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. Among other things, Specter reported that Holder's extensive nominee questionnaire and FBI background check were not yet complete, our colleague Carrie Johnson reports.

"I am looking for a very constructive engagement to determine the qualifications of Mr. Holder," Specter said.

Specter's remarks ignited a tit-for-tat letter-writing exchange in which Leahy said he was "confounded" by his colleague's position. "The need for new leadership at the Department of Justice is as critical today as it ever has been," Leahy wrote, and he noted that the pre-inauguration hearing was standard operating procedure.

Prominent GOP advisers, including former White House aide Karl Rove, have criticized Holder for his role in a last-minute 2001 pardon that President Bill Clinton bestowed on fugitive financier Marc Rich. But more moderate Republicans say that the pardon issue alone will not be enough to jeopardize Holder's confirmation.

We had assumed Specter's request was the traditional ploy to draw things out so opponents would have more time to find dirt on the nominee.

But then Leahy delivered a shot, implying that Specter, one of the Senate's best-traveled members, actually wanted a schedule change to accommodate an overseas trip over the holidays.

Leahy noted that he had asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to "facilitate your 14-day trip to 10 countries from December 25 through January 7." He then asked Specter, "Please do let me know who the other Senators are who will be accompanying you."

Hmmm. Leahy, as Judiciary chairman, probably authorized Specter's congressional delegation, though it's possible he didn't know that the "delegation" was just Specter and his wife and an aide, who are taking a military jet to Europe and the Middle East over the holidays. The itinerary includes stops in England, Israel (his 26th visit), Syria (18th) and Austria. The Austria stop is for a chat with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

This sparring could get ugly come the confirmation hearing.

Transportation Shortlist

With President-elect Barack Obama rounding out his Cabinet, and most all nominees expected to be announced before Christmas, attention is turning to the race to become transportation secretary, a plum perch from which to influence an issue atop the new administration's agenda: the economic stimulus infrastructure plan.

Obama is down to a small group of finalists, and Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which oversees transportation planning and financing in the nine-county San Francisco Bay area, is said to be in the rail position.

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