Washington, Nov.20 : Though they have not launched direct attacks on Barack Obama's leading choice to lead the Justice Department, Eric Holder Junior, the Republican National Committee (RNC) is not hesitating to highlight the latter's role in controversial 2001 pardons.
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 according to the Washington Post, Capitol Hill aides from both sides of the aisle have 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 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.
Senator Orrin G. Hatch, 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.
Senator Charles E. Grassley told Iowa reporters yesterday that Holder, 57, has impeccable credentials. But he said he would reserve judgment until he sifted through congressional testimony about the pardons.
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 dollars 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. Committee Democrats later cited Holder for "bad judgment" but rejected tougher sanctions.
"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," said one Congress member.
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.