‘The Right Man’ to Protect Us from Terror?
At least, that's what some of Eric Holder's surprising supporters say.


Andrew C. McCarthy

I’ve heard the whole defense, again and again, from these friends and allies of mine. Heard it and agreed with it. What’s most impressed me is the passion with which it has always been expressed, the conviction that Bush’s defensive measures — taken to safeguard a nation still under siege — were both constitutional and absolutely essential to fulfilling government’s first duty, the protection of American lives.

Yet, these same former prosecutors now assert that Eric Holder “understands and appreciates” the threat to our country just as they do. In fact, they’re not content to leave it at that. They finish their letter with a flourish: “Eric Holder is the right man at the right time to protect our citizens in the critical years ahead.”

Reading their letter, after everything these former officials have so eloquently said about our national-security needs, I found myself wondering whether, unbeknownst to me, they’d somehow managed to convert Holder. And please understand: in this case, a conversion would most certainly be required. To put it mildly, anti-terrorist ferocity was not the hallmark of Holder’s tenure as Deputy Attorney General — pace the cheery portrait sketched by the former prosecutors, whose letter assures us that “everyone seems to agree with us that Eric is extraordinarily well qualified to be Attorney General,” and that “virtually no one disputes that Eric was an outstanding Deputy Attorney General in every respect.” (I’ve never before thought of myself as “virtual,” but there you have it.)

Some history is in order. The Clinton administration’s impressive 1996 overhaul of counterterrorism law happened before Holder ever got to Main Justice. He was there, though, in time to engineer the shocking, politically driven pardons of 16 Puerto Rican separatists — terrorists whose organizations (most notoriously, the FALN) were responsible for over 130 bombings and the murders of innocent Americans; terrorists who hadn’t even applied for clemency or expressed a modicum of remorse (elementary prerequisites for pardon consideration under Justice Department standards); terrorists as to whom Holder’s response was to stonewall Congress when the inevitable questions arose; terrorists whose pardons Holder supported over strenuous protest from victims’ families and law enforcement (including subordinates he brow-beat into muting their objections); terrorists whose pardons Holder urged despite the horrible message this sent in the aftermath of al Qaeda’s bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Moreover, Holder had been acting as Attorney General throughout the final months of the Clinton administration when al Qaeda killed 17 members of the U.S. Navy by bombing the U.S.S. Cole. In response to that al-Qaeda atrocity, the Clinton Justice Department filed no charges . . . even as the department was taking no action against Iranian government operatives who, Justice well knew, had carried out the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, in which 19 members of the United States Air Force were murdered. Charges were finally filed in these cases by the Bush Justice Department.

Holder did, however, contribute to one other terrorist matter: the pardons of Weather Underground terrorists Susan Rosenberg and Linda Sue Evans. (Rosenberg, as I’ve recounted, was my case.) There’s no piece of paper — at least none we’ve seen publicly — that says Holder recommended these pardons. Just as there isn’t one that says he opposed them. Maybe, if there finally is a long-overdue congressional inquiry, we won’t find a paper-trail either way. Holder is a classic go-along-to-get-along careerist: Clinton wanted to pardon these terrorists, and Holder’s modus operandi under such circumstances was to leave behind as few of his fingerprints as possible in the course of not making waves.

But we do know that Holder helped create the climate that made the Weather Underground pardons possible. With the FALN pardons, he helped foster an atmosphere where terrorist clemency was not out of the question — even though the United States was then being targeted for terrorist attacks. And, of course, in the Marc Rich case, while doing the bidding of Jack Quinn (a top Washington lawyer and Al Gore confidant well positioned to promote Holder as Attorney General in a potential Gore administration) Holder helped devise an appalling pardon process that intentionally, methodically bypassed the Justice Department protocols he was responsible for upholding. Rich is only the most infamous beneficiary — the off-line process was the gateway to freedom for Rosenberg, Evans, and the several other pardons that disgusted the Justice Department and the nation.

Evidently, that’s all water under the bridge. Besides, maybe I’d missed something. Maybe, after all that’s happened to our country since his last tour of duty, Eric Holder had learned his lesson. Maybe my friends, these former prosecutors, had gotten in Holder’s ear. Their letter says he “understands and appreciates” the terrorist threat just like they do. Maybe, at last, he’s started saying the sorts of things they’ve been saying all along.

Um  . . . not exactly.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review