Former attorney general Eric Holder, who is weighing a 2020 presidential bid, on Friday sharply questioned President Trump’s judgment in issuing a string of pardons, including one granted the day before to conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza.
“If you use all the typical metrics that we use in the Justice Department . . . very few of these people you’d consider good candidates for pardons,” Holder said at a “Politics and Eggs” event in New Hampshire that is considered a rite of passage for potential presidential candidates.
On Thursday, Trump issued a full pardon to D’Souza, an author and filmmaker who pleaded guilty in 2014 to illegally using straw donors to contribute to a New York Republican’s candidacy for a U.S. Senate seat. D’Souza later claimed he was targeted by prosecutors because of his previous vocal criticism of President Barack Obama.
Trump also indicated that he is considering clemency for other celebrity felons, including lifestyle maven Martha Stewart and former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D), among others.
Holder, a Democrat who was Obama’s attorney general when D’Souza was federally prosecuted, cited him as an example of someone not worthy of a pardon, as well as Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz. Arpaio was held in criminal contempt for ignoring a court order related to the detention of people suspected of being in the country illegally.
Holder acknowledged that U.S. presidents have an “absolute” power to pardon and that the country has “a history of, you know, not-great pardons.” But he added, “I’m a little concerned about what’s going on now.”
Holder said he thinks Trump is trying to “send a message” to potential witnesses in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, making clear they know he has the power to pardon them.
But Holder said such a strategy is not likely to undermine the investigation being led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which also includes an examination of whether Trump has tried to obstruct justice.
“If you pardon somebody, all right, that means that they don’t have much to worry about with regard to whatever the pardon covers,” Holder said. But “if Bob Mueller for instance wants to take a pardoned person, put that person before a grand jury, that person no longer has the ability to say, ‘I’m going to invoke my Fifth Amendment right’ ” against self-incrimination.
“That’s been stripped away . . . and that person then becomes a perfect witness for the special counsel,” Holder said. “And so it might have a positive impact on the person who received the pardon, but it will not ultimately thwart the Mueller investigation.”
Holder told the audience that he is considering a 2020 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination but will not make a decision whether to run until sometime next year. He devoted most of his prepared remarks to his current work challenging congressional districts that have been gerrymandered to favor Republicans.
Holder’s comments on Trump’s pardons came in response to a question from the audience.