“I want to assure you and the American people that I will be an independent Attorney General. I will be the people’s lawyer,” Eric Holder told the Senate judiciary committee moments ago, in response to a question form Sen. Herb Kohl.
Holder’s answer suggests the extent to which the shadow of Alberto Gonzales hangs over the curent nominee’s confirmation, which began this morning. Much of Senate Judiciary chair Pat Leahy’s opening statement was an argument that Holder is the man to fix the problems of politicization at DOJ under Gonzales that we’ve chronicled at TPMmuckraker over the last two years.
Said Leahy, after noting the department’s report, released Tuesday, into politicized hiring under Gonzales:
Americans must be able to trust their Justice Department. That trust must not be squandered or taken for granted. We need leaders who are prepared to take the laboring oars of a Justice Department whose dedicated law enforcement professionals have been misused and demoralized. Eric Holder is such a leader.
Just as revealingly, Republicans have centered their opposition to Holder on the claim, without much evidence, that, in fact, he’s likely to be a second Gonzo. Earlier this month in a speech on the Senate floor, ranking GOPer Arlen Specter laid out the argument:
Mr. Gonzales left office accused of politicizing the Justice Department, failing to restrain Executive overreaching, and being less than forthcoming with Congress … I am convinced that many of Attorney General Gonzales’ missteps were caused by his eagerness to please the White House. Similarly, when Mr. Holder was serving as DAG to President Clinton, some of his actions raised concerns about his ability to maintain his independence from the president.
As their main exhibits in this case, Specter and other GOPers have cited Holder’s 2001 pardon, as a top DOJ official in the Clinton administration, of the fugitive financier Marc Rich, which it appeared was supported by the president. GOPers have also condemned Holder’s support for clemency for members of the FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist group, at a time when Hillary Clinton was seeking a Senate seat in New York, which has a large Puerto Rican population.
Already this morning, Specter has grilled Holder on these issues, declaring, in reference to Rich: “The indicators are that you were very heavily involved and yet you testified that you were only casually involved. So there’s a question of candor there.”
I made mistakes … in the Rich matter. I’ve accepted the responsibility of making those mistakes…I should have made sure that all the prosecutors in that case were informed of what was going on. I made assumptions that turned out not to be true … I’ve learned from that experience. I think that, as perverse as this might sound, I will be a better Attorney General should I be confirmed, having had the Marc Rich experience.
It’s great that Holder has learned from his mistakes. But, Specter’s grandstanding notwithstanding, the entire attack is pretty bogus to begin with.
There’s just not much of a comparison between the level of politicization that DOJ saw under Gonzales — when US Attorneys were removed for not bringing cases that reflected the White House’s political priorities, and officials actively sought to avoid hiring liberals — and Holder’s sins during the last administration. And that excludes the numerous examples, cited by Leahy and other Holder supporters in recent weeks, of Holder acting in ways counter to the president’s interest while at DOJ.
But leaving aside the minor political theater over Holder, the prominence of Gonzales’ record in these hearings, as a negative marker against which to measure Holder, is perhaps the strongest testament to the unprecedented damage that the former Attorney General, and the president, did to the department.