The Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing of Eric Holder, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for Attorney General of the United States, began yesterday with great fanfare and a few fireworks. Some Republican members of the committee asked very pointed questions, while Democrats blew kisses at the designee.
Rivaling Forrest Gump in sheer scope of participation in history’s notorious moments, Holder appears to have played a part in every major scandal of the Clinton administration, aside from sex with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. There was hardly time to cover the magnitude of this nominee’s troubled experience, especially given that only one side of the committee was participating in real questioning. Elian Gonzales, Waco, FALN terrorist pardons, the Marc Rich pardon, nuclear technology transfers to China — the list goes on and on. Holder has even popped up in the first big scandal to hit the Office of the President-elect, the Blagojevich corruption scandal.
Early on, Holder was asked about his recommendation as an assistant attorney general to then President Bill Clinton in favor of the granting of clemency to 16 FALN Puerto Rican terrorists who were responsible for over 130 bombings in the United States. It was revealed in the hearing today that these terrorists had not themselves asked for clemency. Yet at the same time when then-President Clinton was considering granting clemency to these terrorists, Hillary Clinton was making her inaugural run to be the junior Senator from New York and was in dire need of the Puerto Rican vote.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) asked Holder if he personally thought that the decision and the ultimate pardon of these terrorists by President Clinton was a wrong decision. Holder defended the pardon. “The President’s determination was that they had not committed any acts themselves that resulted in death or bodily injury. And on that basis and given the amount of time that they had served in jail, roughly 16 to 19 years in jail, most had 19 years, and given the length of the sentences they had received it was his determination that the clemency requests were appropriate taking all of that into consideration,” Holder said.
Sessions then asked, “Do you personally have an opinion whether it was right or wrong?” Holder replied, “I think that given all that I have described that what the President did was reasonable.”
That response did not sit well at all with many of the Republican senators but in particular Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). I caught up with Coburn in the hallway outside of the hearing and asked him about the Holder response. “I don’t think that it was in any way reasonable to grant clemency to these terrorists,” Coburn said. “Terry Nichols didn’t participate at all in the Oklahoma City bombing other than he was part of a conspiracy that allowed it to happen. But these people [FALN terrorists] allowed it to happen and people died. People were killed. Families lost loved ones. That’s like saying 10 years from now we’re going to let Terry Nichols go. I hope he rots in jail. By Eric Holder’s standard Terry Nichols would be free.”
In a later round, Sessions went on to point out that Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed were not directly responsible for the execution of the 9/11 attacks either, but they were part of the planning and conspiracy that surrounded the attacks. Yet time and again, Holder maintained that freeing these terrorists was a reasonable decision.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened the morning proceedings by first playing the race card in support of this problematic nominee. “It was seven score and four years ago that this nation answered the fundamental question President Lincoln posed in his Gettysburg Address and the world learned that liberty, equality and democracy could serve as the foundation for this great and united nation,” Leahy said, as if the civil war had anything to do with the fitness of this nominee to serve as the attorney general of the United States.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) was outspoken in voicing concerns about the Holder nomination at the hearing, first taking the committee chairman to task for his refusal to co-sign any of the documentation requests or issue subpoenas to reluctant witnesses.
“The chairman declined to co-sign the letter requesting records from the Clinton Library… and the records have not been obtained,” Specter said in his opening statement. “When the minority previously had a dozen witnesses under similar circumstances, we got three. When two witnesses, Ms. Mary Jo White and Mr. Roger Adams, refused to appear, our requests for subpoenas were denied.”
When confronted with this lack of cooperation in compelling document production and witnesses, Leahy replied, jammed among other things, “This is not a lifelong position.”
Specter went on to excoriate Holder for his refusal to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Al Gore’s shady campaign fundraising practices allegedly involving foreign governments (China being the most prominent) and basing fundraising operations out of the White House.
“If it hadn’t been the Vice President, your superior, somebody to favor, an independent counsel would have been appointed,” Specter said. “I think it’s so clear that it raises a question in my mind as to your fitness for the job.”
Holder defended himself saying, “We certainly didn’t favor Al Gore when we decided to make that rescue of Elian Gonzales in Florida, a critical state, as it turned out, for Al Gore.” When do you “rescue” a child from his loving family by pointing a gun in his face? It was Holder who did point out at the time that the officer’s finger was not on the trigger of that “assault” weapon when he went in and ripped Elian out of his bedroom.
A defensive Holder then accused Specter of questioning his competence as an attorney and his integrity, to which the senator replied, “You are an excellent lawyer, Mr. Holder. If you weren’t such a good lawyer I wouldn’t be so surprised. If you were a poor lawyer, an inexperienced lawyer, not a real professional, I could say, ‘He doesn’t know any better.’ My evaluation is that a man in your position knew better.”
Senators Sessions and Coburn pressed Holder on a variety of issues ranging from the Second Amendment to the Fairness Doctrine, and at these times, Holder bobbed and weaved, refusing to answer whether he would uphold states’ rights to permit concealed carrying of weapons and denying that anyone in the Obama circle was planning to interfere. On the Fairness Doctrine, Holder avoided any clear answers.
Holder’s participation in the hearing concluded last night and the hearing will continue today with outside witnesses both in favor of and in opposition to the nomination.