The moment of truth about Eric Holder’s moment of truth

The Senate Judiciary held a hearing today to consider the nomination of Eric Holder for Attorney General. It seems clear that Holder will be confirmed. Senator Hatch signaled his intention to vote for confirmation and that Republican vote alone would be enough. It won’t be the only one either.

The Washington Republican establishment is mostly behind Holder. Most members of that establishment feel more comfortable with their fellow Washington insider than they do with taking their chances on an Obama nominee to be named later. Some Republican lawyers might also see Holder’s confirmation as inevitable and want to make sure they are on his good side.

Whether Holder should be confirmed is a very different matter. In his opening remarks, Holder stated that law enforcement must be untainted by politics. He also insisted that the Department of Justice represents the people, not the president.

But when Holder faced his moment of truth in the waning days of the Clinton presidency, he failed to live up to these principles. Holder put President Clinton’s interest in pardoning a fugitive criminal ahead of the people’s interest in bringing that criminal to justice.

Holder conceded that this was a major mistake. The specific mistake, he says, was not learning the facts surrounding Rich’s circumstances. Note that by characterizing his error this way, he is able to deny knowing the things that made the pardon such an abomination. Thus, he denied knowing that Rich had assisted our enemies, including Iran. And he denied knowing about the large sums of money Rich’s wife had donated to Democratic and Clinton interests.

Assuming that Holder didn’t find any of these things out, the question becomes why. In the portions of the hearing I heard, and in the reports I’ve seen, he never provided an explanation. For example, he simply ducked Senator Specter’s question about why he didn’t ask one of the DOJ attorneys who warned him against the Rich pardon what the problem was. The best Holder could do was to note that this particular attorney was not the pardon attorney.

In the absence of an explanation, the conclusion seems inescapable that, if Holder really was as ignorant as he claims to have been, it was because he didn’t want to know. President Clinton wanted the pardon and Holder wanted to get it accomplished. Holder, in short, put the president’s interest first, and a reprehensible criminal bought his pardon.

Holder’s failure to adhere to his own first principles during his moment of truth would permit, though standing alone probably not compel, a vote against his confirmation.

All of this assumes that Holder is telling the truth. But it may be that Holder knew more than what he acknowledges. It may also be that, as a House report found, Holder steered Rich’s representatives to Jack Quinn and then assisted Quinn in cutting the Justice Department out of the loop. Holder disputes these findings.

The Republican members of the Judiciary Committee are commendably reluctant to conclude that Holder is not telling the truth. However, the conduct of the Democratic members, and of Holder himself, should give them pause.

As to the Democrats, they have refused to give the Republicans the time they need to review the documentary record that has been produced; refused to allow them to present more than a handful of witnesses; refused to sign a letter that would have expedited the release of key documents from the Clinton library; and refused to subpoena key witnesses, including the pardon attorney at the time of Rich pardon, Roger Adams. Among the documents that the Dems have obstructed the Republicans from obtaining is the Justice Department memo concerning another extremely controversial pardon Holder was involved with — the pardon of the FALN terrorists. Holder may have nothing to hide, but the Dems aren’t behaving that way.

As to Holder, he seems to have been less than candid in discussing his relationship with Governor Blagojevich. For example, as I noted on Monday, Holder’s claim that he performed no substantive legal work for Blagojevich is not accurate. In fact, Holder issued a request for production of documents in April 2004 in furtherance of an investigation he was performing on the governor’s behalf. And Holder’s highly dubious denial of performing substantive work followed his initial failure to disclose the press conference at which Blago announced that Holder would be handling the investigation. Holder may have nothing to hide, but he’s not acting that way.

In short, I see two defensible approaches to the Holder nomination: (1) vote against confirmation on the grounds that Holder’s own admissions regarding the Rich pardon show him to be unsuitable for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer job and (2) refuse to vote for confirmation until Holder and the Senate Dems are more forthcoming.

Unfortunately, we are heading for (3) confirm the insider.

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