Barack Obama has reportedly selected Eric Holder as his Attorney General. Most of the reaction has centered around Holder's role, however small, in Bill Clinton's pardon of "fugitive financier" Marc Rich. And wow: who would have thought I'd have the chance to bust out the phrase "fugitive financier" again after all of these years? Ahh, nostalgia!
Even Holder's most of his fervent supporters briefly acknowledge the pardon, while praising his long record. For those who are critical of Holder, Marc Rich isn't that easy to overlook. And for others, the reasons to scrutinize Holder run beyond that single pardon. On the left, there's concern about his position on detainees after 9/11. On the right, there's the general perception that Holder is a convention leftist. Below, take in a sampling of responses, hot and cold, with some interesting lukewarm reactions in between.
The bulk of what I've read about and from Holder suggests, with a couple of ultimately marginal exceptions, that this appointment would be a very positive step. Digby yesterday quoted at length from an impassioned speech Holder gave in June of this year in which he condemned Guantanamo as an "international embarrassment"; charged that "for the last 6 years the position of leader of the Free World has been largely vacant"; complained that "we authorized torture and we let fear take precedence over the rule of law"; and called for an absolute end both to rendition and warrantless eavesdropping. He proclaimed that "the next president must move immediately to reclaim America's standing in the world as a nation that cherishes and protects individual freedom and basic human rights."
What's notable about this speech, in my view, is that the points he's making go well beyond standard Democratic Party boilerplate on these issues. More revealingly, the rhetoric he used is rather unconstrained for Washington, suggestive of actual passion and conviction on these matters.
Everything I know of Holder is positive (check out this speech he delivered to the American Constitution Society a few years ago). He's universally respected and as a former deputy AG, knows a bit about how the Justice Department is supposed to work. And after eight years of Bushies trashing the joint, that's an important skill to bring to the table. (No, don't pay any mind to that Marc Rich issue.)
Googling around, I see he's sounded many progressive notes about terrorism-related issues. Check out this speech to the American Constitution Society, the liberal answer to the Federalist Society, in June, back when he was helping helm Obama's vice-presidential search committee. Mark Halperin put up an ACS press release giving the highlights.
As U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., Eric Holder sought to raise marijuana penalties and restore mandatory minimum penalties for drug crimes.
A flashback, from Stephanie Mencimer of the Washington City Paper, circa 1997:
After three and a half years on the job, Holder is still revered in the city's halls of power and widely respected by his peers in the legal field. He is the presumptive nominee to replace outgoing U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, a major plum position. He is infinitely qualified by all accounts, and his appointment would be a historic one, since the position has never been held by an African-American. But for all the love Holder has engendered in the community as U.S. Attorney, he has had precious little impact on the city's endemic municipal corruption. Barry has returned to his old tricks, nudging contracts and city jobs to old cronies and new girlfriends. Holder is apparently leaving, and he hasn't thrown a punch.
The one possible catch: Holder was part of the chain of command in the pardon Bill Clinton gave to infamous fugitive Marc Rich. Probably safe to say that'd come up at the confirmation hearings.
Remember one thing that happens with all of these people. They've been in the public eye, so we think we know them, or the people in Washington think they know all about them, and then boom, they have to go through this insane vetting process and you maybe learn some thing that is small is the scheme of things but can be disqualifying. It used to be that people didn't pay the taxes on their maid's or nanny's income. Presumably everyone learned to take care of that, so now it might be something else. Not saying any of this applies to Holder of course; rather, that the picayune is bound to ensare someone or other.
But if Holder it be, he will need Herculean fortitude to clean out the sewage that has polluted the Justice Department in the Bush years.
Quick! Name the veteran Department of Justice insider who, shortly after the USA Patriot Act was signed into law and at a point when the Bush administration was proposing to further erode barriers to governmental abuses, argued that dissenters should not be tolerated?
Who invoked September 11, explicitly referencing "the World Trade Center aflame," in calling for the firing of any "petty bureaucrat" who might suggest that proper procedures be followed and that the separation of powers be respected?
John Ashcroft? No.
Alberto Gonzales? No.
It was Eric Holder, the man who has reportedly been selected by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as the next Attorney General of the United States.
As we observed throughout the campaign, Barack Obama gave indications that his election would mean a return to the September 10 mentality, a national-security outlook marked prominently by its lack of seriousness about the terrorist threat. In choosing Eric Holder to be his attorney general, President-Elect Obama has taken a step toward confirming those misgivings.
Holder was the Clinton administration's last deputy attorney general, succeeding Jamie Gorelick in 1997 under Janet Reno. That appointment marked the final elevation in a series of Clinton-era promotions that punctuate his résumé. Holder's rise, like Obama's own, is of symbolic significance, as he now has been nominated to be the nation's first black attorney general. Symbolism, however, cannot camouflage the fact that Holder is a conventional, check-the-boxes creature of the Left.