Holder Gets Soft Touch So Far

Posted January 15, 2009 at 11:29am

Despite GOP hopes that Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on President-elect Barack Obama’s nomination of Eric Holder to become the next attorney general would produce some fodder for a floor battle, little in the way of fireworks had occurred by midday.

Although ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) did go on the offensive over Holder’s role in the Clinton-era pardon of billionaire fugitive Marc Rich, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) stuck to largely parochial issues.

Senate Republicans had yet to probe Holder over his involvement in an Illinois gaming license scandal involving embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), although GOP aides said the afternoon hearing would feature more difficult questioning.

Holder held his own during Specter’s opening round of queries, unequivocally denying a number of accusations related to his role in the Rich pardon.

Republicans have accused Holder of recommending that Rich hire former White House counsel Jack Quinn as his lawyer, and of later recommending that Quinn take Rich’s case directly to the White House rather than the Department of Justice, where Holder served as deputy attorney general.

But Holder repeatedly dismissed those charges as false. “I did not recommend Mr. Quinn. … I never told Quinn to go to the White House with the pardon application,” Holder said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked about a recent inspector general report that suggested the Bush administration used political considerations in hiring lawyers at Justice. Holder said he would review a decision by prosecutors not to pursue criminal charges in the matter.

“What’s contained in the report is very disturbing,” Holder said, adding that as attorney general, “I will review that decision. … I want to know why the determination was made not to pursue criminal charges.”

Under questioning from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Holder refused to commit to not pursuing criminal charges against Vice President Dick Cheney and Justice Department officials over the terrorist surveillance program.

“Senator, no one is above the law. We will follow the evidence, the facts, the law and let that take us where it will,” Holder said, although he did concede neither he or Obama “want to criminalize policy differences.”