The People's Lawyer, Not the President's

“The President needs to nominate an Attorney General who will be the people’s lawyer, not the President’s lawyer…” ~ Sen. Barack Obama, August 27, 2007

When Presidential candidate Barack Obama made that statement regarding a possible replacement for departing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, he was exactly right; which is why it is so strange that slightly over one year later, President-elect Obama would choose to nominate Eric Holder for Attorney General. Far from being a “People’s Lawyer,” Eric Holder’s record of public service during the Clinton Administration is characterized by decision after decision made solely with an eye towards satisfying personal and political interests to the detriment of the American people. And I believe if the unabridged version of Mr. Holder’s conduct as a Justice Department official during the Clinton Administration is allowed to be laid bare during Thursday’s confirmation hearing, the majority of Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee will clearly see that Eric Holder is not the person we should entrust with the power to be our Nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

As a Member of House of Representatives, I will not be afforded the opportunity to question Mr. Holder during his confirmation hearing, as I was able to when I chaired the 2002 House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight hearing examining the controversial last-second Clinton pardons. However, if my Senate colleagues were to ask me for a few suggestions, I would strongly encourage them to ask Mr. Holder:

1. In the Fall of 1999, an ally of Marc Rich, Gershon Kekst, asked you what advice you could give to someone who had been indicted by an “overzealous prosecutor.” You told him that such a person should “hire a lawyer who knows the process, he comes to me, and we work it out,” then specifically offered Jack Quinn as an example of the type of fixer you had in mind. Coincidentally or not, over the next 15 months you advised Jack Quinn on matters relating to Marc Rich, and he eventually received the pardon. Do you believe “work[ing] it out” with a lawyer “who knows the process” is an accurate method of administering justice on behalf of the American people?

2. After recommending Jack Quinn as someone you could work with, he was hired by Marc Rich to spearhead the pardon effort. In late 1999, Quinn called and asked you to arrange a meeting with the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York to discuss the Rich case. At that point, you became aware of the charges against Marc Rich and his status as an international fugitive. When the prosecutors in New York refused to meet about Marc Rich, you told Quinn it was “ridiculous,” that “we’re all sympathetic,” and “the equities [are] on your side.” Could you explain why you were “sympathetic” about a pardon for Marc Rich, who, as you knew at the time, was near the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list and the worst tax cheat in American history?

3. In November 2000, Quinn told you he was going to file the pardon petition with the White House and asked if you wanted a copy. He also asked you if he could submit a letter to the White House in which he would recommend they contact you for an opinion on pardoning Marc Rich. According to Jack Quinn, you said the White House should call you, and that you did not want a copy of the full pardon petition. Why did you tell Mr. Quinn not to send you a copy of the full pardon petition? Why did you not alert the Justice Department staff to the fact that a fugitive on the FBI’s Most Wanted list was going to receive pardon consideration?

4. In 2001, you testified before the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight about the Marc Rich pardon. You suggested that you had a momentary lapse in judgment with regard to your “neutral, leaning favorable” recommendation to the White House in the evening before the pardon was issued. You alluded to not being fully informed when you gave your recommendation, saying “I now wished I placed as much focus on the Rich case” as you did on other pardon petitions. After communicating with Jack Quinn numerous times over a 15 month period about the Rich case, which aspects of it were still unclear to you?

5. In the same 2001 Committee hearing, you admitted the Rich case was not handled through “normal channels.” You also acknowledged that the Justice Department never received the pardon petition, and therefore, never had a chance to comment on it. How is it that you were the only person at the Justice Department aware of the imminent pardon of international fugitive Marc Rich? When dealing with such a high profile criminal, why weren’t the normal channels for pardons used?

6. Shortly after the pardon was granted, you spoke with Jack Quinn over the phone. You offered congratulatory remarks and then asked if he would consider hiring two of your former Justice Department aides. By the time you had that conversation, the Rich pardon had already become a national outrage and you were serving as Acting Attorney General — the very position which you now seek. How do you explain asking Mr. Quinn for that favor after assisting him with the Rich pardon? Can you possibly convince the American people that this type of conduct would not occur typically under a Holder Justice Department?

7. In the 2001 Committee hearing on the Clinton pardons, you were asked, “Did you seek or talk to Mr. Quinn and ask for his support in any way to become the Attorney General if there was a Gore administration?” You responded, “Sure, we had those kinds of conversations.” You then went on to explain that there was no quid pro quo involved in your helping Mr. Quinn with the Rich case, and that your actions were based on the law as you understood it. While you maintain there was no impropriety, do you think your judgment in assisting Mr. Quinn with the Rich pardon, after asking for his help in attaining a potential nomination for Attorney General, is consistent with the type of judgment the chief law enforcement officer of the United States should exhibit?

8. In 1999, the Government Reform and Oversight Committee investigated the commutations given to sixteen members of Puerto Rican-based FALN and Macheteros — terrorist groups that the FBI has linked to more than 130 bombings, numerous armed robberies, and six slayings within the United States. After being convicted of bank robbery, possession of explosives, and participating in seditious conspiracy, their sentences were commuted by President Clinton after receiving a neutral “options memo” from the Justice Department. Is it true that you ordered the Justice Department pardon attorney to revise the previous opinion from strongly opposing clemency, to a more neutral opinion? If so, what were your motivations in giving that order?

Taken as a whole, I believe that the answers to these questions will lead inescapably to the conclusion that Mr. Holder’s action, or inaction, leading up to and after the highly controversial Marc Rich and FALN pardons subverted justice. As a result, today Marc Rich, who fled the country after being charged with 51 counts of tax fraud and with running illegal oil deals with Iran during the hostage crisis, now walks around a free man. Also because of Mr. Holder’s actions, FALN terrorists are also free men. Such a monumental and deliberate failure to execute justice is not the kind of conduct the American people expect and deserve from their chief law enforcement officer.

I respectfully urge my Senate colleagues to ask Mr. Holder the tough questions and to ultimately not place American justice in the hands of a man who, when given the opportunity to uphold it, already failed miserably at the job. When they do reject Mr. Holder, I hope that President Obama will nominate someone else who will truly be “the people’s lawyer.”