House Republicans are now calling for a special counsel to investigate whether Attorney General Eric Holder perjured himself in congressional testimony about the scandalous Fast & Furious program. Specifically, the attorney general claimed on May 3 that he had only “over the last few weeks” heard about the reckless gun-walking program his Justice Department was running with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) — a program in which guns were steered to violent Mexican gangs with predictably lethal results, including the murder of a Border Patrol agent. Contrary to Holder’s testimony, it is now being reported that he had actually been receiving briefings on the program since early summer 2010.
I’m shocked, shocked to hear it.
In truth, I’d be very surprised if it turned out that Mr. Holder was as much in the dark as he claims. Fast & Furious was a very strange and controversial program, and there was plenty of Justice Department participation in it: ATF is a Justice Department agency; the investigation was being conducted jointly with a U.S. attorney’s office (i.e., a DOJ district office); the investigation featured eavesdropping applications, which have to go through the Justice Department; and White House officials were apparently being briefed about the program. It would be odd indeed if the AG were out of the loop. To be clear, though, I have no idea who knew what, and when. We’ll just have to see how that plays out.
For the moment, my point is simply this: No one ought to be surprised by what is happening. Readers may recall my vigorous contentions that Mr. Holder’s history should disqualify him from serving as attorney general (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, here). President Obama should not have nominated him, and I urged that the Senate not confirm him. Beltway Republicans, however, rallied to Holder’s defense, and Senate Republicans dutifully joined their Democratic counterparts in overwhelmingly approving his appointment.
One of the many arguments I made was based on Holder’s record of providing misleading congressional testimony.
When he served as Clinton-administration deputy attorney general, Holder engineered the scandalous Marc Rich pardon by creating a rogue procedure that allowed the fugitive fraudster and his attorneys to appeal directly to President Clinton rather than go through DOJ’s regular pardon process. The regular process would have required input from the U.S. attorney’s office handling Rich’s case — the Southern District of New York, where I worked for many years (including when the pardon was granted). That input would have doomed the pardon by making Clinton undeniably aware of the nature and dimension of Rich’s criminal conduct.
By keeping the prosecutors who knew about Rich’s case out of the process, Holder ensured that Clinton was one-sidedly exposed to the Rich camp’s version of events. This greatly benefited Rich’s legal team, which was led by former Clinton White House Counsel Jack Quinn, a close confidant of Vice President Al Gore. When he was helping Rich in 1999 and 2000, Holder was hoping to be made attorney general in what Democrats were confident would be a Gore administration.
I don’t want to rehash all the unsavory details; I just want to focus on the following: When Clinton’s pardon of Rich blew up, Congress held hearings. Despite the fact that he had interceded on Rich’s (and Quinn’s) behalf even before the pardon shenanigans, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2001, under oath, that “Mr. Rich’s name was unfamiliar to me” in 1999, when Quinn first beseeched Holder to help Quinn try to convince SDNY prosecutors to drop the charges. Holder elaborated that he had “gained only a passing familiarity with the underlying facts of the Rich case” when, in the ensuing months, he helped push for the pardon. He claimed that he had been too busy to inform himself about the case of the criminal for whom he was lobbying — a man who had been on the FBI’s top-ten list of wanted fugitives.
Based largely on Holder’s rambling and often incredible testimony, which stressed his purported ignorance of Rich’s background, a House investigation concluded that the “sum total” of Holder’s “knowledge about Rich came from a page of talking points provided to him by Jack Quinn in 2000.” The House Government Operations Committee concluded that Holder’s behavior in the Rich affair had been “unconscionable,” but it took no further action.
Eight years later, when President Obama nominated him to be attorney general, Holder clung to his protestations of ignorance. At the nomination hearing, Arlen Specter, then the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, pointedly asked, “Were you aware of the kind of record this man [Rich] had?”