’How can we trust your leadership when . . . you just constantly change the story, seemingly to fit your needs to wiggle out of being caught, frankly, telling mistruths?”
Remember Sen. Chuck Schumer’s skewering of Alberto Gonzales? Watching the bobs, weaves, and outright denials of attorney-general nominee Eric Holder as he struggles to explain his inexplicable conduct in the Marc Rich pardon scandal, one can’t help but remember. It seems like it was about five minutes ago that Senate Democrats were posing as the last line of defense between a vulnerable public and that greatest of all threats: a “politicized” Justice Department led by an attorney general who wouldn’t level with Everyman’s tribune, the Judiciary Committee.
Schumer was fit to be tied–or at least pretended to be. He wasn’t so much questioning as scolding Gonzales. The Scorseses at the New York Times and NBC News had cried “Action!” and the Left’s divas, who’ve made the Judiciary Committee their center stage for 20 years of Borkings, snapped into carefully choreographed outrage.
We’d already heard the warm-up act from non-Judiciary Democrats like Sen. Mark Pryor, who’d pronounced months earlier: “When an attorney general lies to a United States senator, I think it is time for that attorney general to go.” But it was July 2007 when the real stars of the melodrama took the stage: “The attorney general is meant to be the chief law-enforcement officer of the land,” Schumer declaimed. “He must be a person of truth and candor and integrity.”
A tremulous Dianne Feinstein soon arrived, framing Gonzales’s tragic flaw–his alleged inability to relate facts to the committee–in myth and metaphor. It was, the senator said, “almost as if the walls were actually crumbling on this huge department.” Not to be outdone, the maestro himself, Patrick Leahy, brooded over the “discrepancy here in sworn testimony.” To the delight of peanut-gallery partisans, the chairman declared that Gonzales must “be fair to the truth.” Finally, enter the chorus: Feinstein and Schumer’s joining Sheldon Whitehouse and Russ Feingold to demand that the Justice Department appoint an independent counsel to probe Gonzales’s alleged mendacity. “It has become apparent that the attorney general has provided at a minimum half-truths and misleading statements,” they wrote. For Feingold, this was the same old song he’d been singing for two years.
So where are they now, these selfless defenders of truth, Main Justice, and the American Way? They’re tripping over themselves to line up behind Holder, the truth-challenged nominee who helped preside over a hopelessly politicized Justice Department.
With Holder as the pliant deputy attorney general willing to grease the boss’s skids, President Clinton sought to improve the Democrats’ electoral position in New York by doling out pardons to members of FALN, the Puerto Rican terrorist group. Then, transparently in exchange for political contributions, he pardoned Marc Rich, at the time one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives. This was Clinton’s final presidential act. It shocked the country–so much so that millions in public funds were expended on congressional and criminal investigations.
The stench of the Rich pardon clings to Holder, who made it happen. It was undeniable that he had abused his office: A House committee report found that his “actions were unconscionable.” The only real question was whether he had been corrupt or merely out of his depth: whether his running interference against his own Justice Department for the fugitive’s benefit was, as the report put it, “the result of incompetence or a deliberate decision to assist Jack Quinn”–Rich’s lawyer and an influential Democrat Holder was hoping would help him become attorney general in a Gore administration.
Luckily for Holder, the investigation didn’t draw a final conclusion. And there it should have been left. Either conclusion illustrates Holder’s unfitness to be given the public trust again–especially given Schumer & Co.’s paeans to “truth and candor and integrity.” Yet here we are. So once again we must wrestle with why Holder went to such lengths for Rich.
HOLDER’S HISTORY WITH RICH What was most repulsive was Rich’s record: massive tax evasion, fraud, racketeering, and, worst of all, funding America’s enemies–particularly Khomeini’s Iran when it was holding Americans hostage in the late 1970s. Rich’s record was the yardstick of corruption–it said that, for all the Clinton administration’s “rule of law” malarkey, what matter most are money and political connections.
For precisely that reason, Holder has always tried to stay as far away from Rich’s record as possible. His only defense–and it has never been much of one–is that he did not know much about Rich and didn’t educate himself by getting input from the prosecutors responsible for the case. When pressed by the Judiciary Committee in 2001, Holder not only denied having even a vague awareness of the notorious Rich when Quinn first approached him in 1999 for help, but went so far as to claim that “Mr. Rich’s name was unfamiliar to me” at that time.