Finally, in 2001, when he was confronted by angry congressional committees investigating the Rich pardon, Holder claimed that “Rich’s name was unfamiliar to me” when Quinn approached him in 1999. Moreover, Holder insisted that he’d remained largely ignorant of Rich’s background when the pardon was under consideration.
At his confirmation hearing last Thursday, Holder conceded that he’d made mistakes in connection with Rich’s pardon. But those mistakes, he maintained, lay in failing to become better informed. “I should not have spoken to the White House and expressed an opinion without knowing all the facts with regard to that matter,” he told a sympathetic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Holder elaborated that his ignorance was due to a lack of “consultation” with the prosecutors in charge of the case. He shouldn’t, he intimated, have operated in the dark.
Later, Sen. Arlen Specter, the committee’s ranking Republican, went through Rich’s sordid history and pointedly asked Holder, “Were you aware of this kind of a record this man had?”
“No I was not,” Holder replied. “And that was one of the mistakes that I made. I did not really acquaint myself with his record. I knew that the matter involved–it was a tax fraud case; it was a substantial tax fraud case. I knew that he was a fugitive. I did not know a lot of the underlying facts that you have described.”
But Holder obviously knew plenty of the underlying facts.
Explaining their civil complaint to the press in 1995, prosecutors from Holder’s office said, as the Wall Street Journal put it, that “Mr. Rich was suspended from doing business with the U.S. government in 1984 after he fled to Switzerland to avoid charges of trading with the enemy and income-tax evasion.” Holder’s office not only decided to bring the civil case but, in the course of settlement negotiations, went to the difficulty of obtaining an affidavit from Rich himself in Switzerland–not something that happens every day with one of the nation’s most notorious outlaws.
Holder, moreover, was the U.S. attorney in Washington for well over a year while his office investigated the case. An investigation of fraud in the inducement of any $45 million contract with the government would have been significant in any U.S. attorney’s office in 1995–it would plainly have called for the U.S. attorney’s personal attention. Given the added factor in this case that the suspected fraud implicated one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives, it is inconceivable that Holder would not have been closely consulted on a settlement that would bear his name and was sure to draw media attention.
Holder’s office, after all, had to decide whether to accept a civil settlement, how much of a penalty to demand, and whether a criminal prosecution based on fraud and false statements should be pursued. Furthermore, in agreeing to take $1.2 million, Holder’s office expressly represented (a) that this amount was designed “to recoup the cost of the investigation” to Holder’s budget, and (b) that, in exchange, it would not “institute or maintain any civil or criminal action” against Rich’s company, based on the evidence developed during the investigation–an extremely valuable concession that a competent U.S. attorney’s office does not make without carefully considering all the relevant facts.
We need not speculate, however, about whether Holder was involved in what had to be one of his office’s most significant civil cases. It should go without saying that if he hadn’t been–if underlings were permitted to run rampant, using his name and his authority without his permission–Holder would have some explaining to do about how he ran his office and about what such inattention would say about Obama’s wisdom in selecting him to run the Justice Department. But it is clear that Holder was personally involved. Here’s how the Wall Street Journal reported his determination to accept the Clarendon settlement in lieu of further charges: “U.S. Attorney Eric Holder said the agreement ends an investigation into the company’s contracts to supply $45 million in coinage metal to the U.S. Mint.” Holder, not an underling, is the reported source of that statement.
At Holder’s confirmation hearing last week, senators seemed to accept his claim that he just didn’t know that much about Rich when he pushed the pardon through in 2001. For some reason, Holder’s own case against Rich was never brought up–it was certainly never mentioned by the nominee, nor did senators use it to impeach Holder’s implausible claims of ignorance. Why not? And in light of that 1995 case, how should the Judiciary Committee and the Senate judge Holder’s testimony last week, and his testimony in 2001, that Marc Rich was “unfamiliar” to him in 1999, when he began intervening on behalf of the fugitive, ultimately ensuring that Rich escaped justice?