President-elect Barack Obama’s nomination of Eric Holder to be Attorney General has raised new questions about Holder’s involvement in the controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich by President Bill Clinton shortly before he left office.
Holder’s supporters have maintained that he was simply doing his job but Congressional records show Holder was much more involved than previously acknowledged.
Such a revelation raises questions about the honesty and integrity of the man who will serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer and whether or not Obama is serious about creating a "transparent" government.
Holder may be damaged goods and another ethically-challenged attorney general is not what voters expected from the President-elect.
In the much praised career of Eric H. Holder Jr., President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be attorney general, there is one notable blemish: Mr. Holder’s complicated role in the 2001 pardon of Marc Rich, a billionaire financier who had fled the country rather than face federal tax evasion charges.
Mr. Holder’s supporters portray him as having been a relatively uninvolved bystander caught in a Clinton-era controversy, the remarkable granting of a last-minute pardon by President Bill Clinton to a fugitive from justice. But interviews and an examination of Congressional records show that Mr. Holder, who at the time of the pardon was the deputy attorney general, was more deeply involved in the Rich pardon than his supporters acknowledge.
Mr. Holder had more than a half-dozen contacts with Mr. Rich’s lawyers over 15 months, including phone calls, e-mail and memorandums that helped keep alive Mr. Rich’s prospects for a legal resolution to his case. And Mr. Holder’s final opinion on the matter — a recommendation to the White House on the eve of the pardon that he was “neutral, leaning toward” favorable — helped ensure that Mr. Clinton signed the pardon despite objections from other senior staff members, participants said.
At the same time, Mr. Holder was not the sinister deal maker that his critics made him out to be. He let himself be drawn into the case by politically influential advocates, the review of the case shows, bypassing the usual Justice Department channels for reviewing pardon applications and infuriating prosecutors in New York who had brought the initial charges against Mr. Rich and his business partner.
Most perplexing to Justice Department allies was that Mr. Holder, by his own admission, involved himself in the discussions without a full briefing from his own prosecutors about the facts of the case, according to an associate of Mr. Holder who spoke on condition of anonymity.