Debate on Eric Holder, President-Elect Obama’s choice for Attorney General, is centering on his acquiescence to President Clinton’s last-minute pardons for fugitive financier Marc Rich and others. That’s as it should be. Eric Holder does not look like he will be a very good Attorney General (here’s National Review’s take), but Obama gets to pick his cabinet. We can’t be under any illusions that he would pick another Mukasey. A competent and ethical liberal is the best we can hope for. The clear consensus is that Holder is at least two of the three. (Here’s Orin Kerr, for example.)
But the stain (as the Washington Post puts it) on Holder’s ethics from the Rich pardon is important. Not only did he sorta, kinda approve the pardon, saying he was “neutral, leaning toward favorable” on it, but he also (as Jennifer Rubin points out) had a major conflict of interest in the case. The New York Times reported in 2002:
Mr. Holder, the [House] report says, played a major role, steering Mr. Rich’s lawyers toward Jack Quinn, a former White House counsel. Mr. Rich hired Mr. Quinn, whose Washington contacts and ability to lobby the president made the difference, according to the report. It says that Mr. Holder’s support for the pardon and his failure to alert prosecutors of a pending pardon were just as crucial. . .
The panel criticized Mr. Holder’s conduct as unconscionable and cited several problems. It cited his admission last year that he had hoped Mr. Quinn would support his becoming attorney general in a Gore administration.
(It must be noted that the House report to which the NYT refers was partisan in tone, but I don’t believe any of these facts are in dispute.)
This makes it should as though Holder was willing to stand back from a miscarriage of justice (and even add equivocating support to it) in order to curry favor with lobbyists who could further his career, which would be truly troubling from the nation’s top law-enforcement official.