When I read items like Dan’s post, about yet another investigation into whether Attorney General Eric Holder has given misleading and potentially perjurious congressional testimony, I can only shake my head — not over Dan’s report, which is significant, but over why anyone is the slightest bit surprised by any of this.
As folks around here will recall, I was strongly opposed to Holder’s nomination and argued vigorously with a number of Republicans who assured us he’d be fabulous. One of the (many) objections I raised was that Holder had given stunningly disingenuous testimony to Congress. This was specifically in connection with his disgraceful participation, as Clinton deputy attorney general, in the corrupt pardon of Marc Rich on Clinton’s last day in office.
As I outlined in this 2009 column, Congress investigated the Rich pardon in 2001. Under oath, Holder told lawmakers that “Mr. Rich’s name was unfamiliar to me” back in 1999. That was when then–deputy AG Holder began interceding on behalf of Rich, who was a fugitive at the time, first by pressuring federal prosecutors in New York to drop the charges, and then, when that failed, by designing an end-around pardon process for Rich. Essentially, in violation of DOJ procedures that require input from the prosecutors on a pardon petitioner’s case, Holder opened a back door to the Oval Office so that Rich’s lawyers (with help from Holder) could argue directly to Clinton in favor of the pardon. At the time, Holder was hoping to be named attorney general in a Gore administration, and Rich was being represented by Jack Quinn, former Clinton White House counsel and an Al Gore confidant.
Holder’s 2001 testimony convinced Congress that all Holder really knew about Rich in 1999 was what little Quinn had told him. But as I recounted in 2009, Holder had actually known a good deal about Rich years before the pardon hijinks.
In 1995, when Holder was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, his office sued one of Rich’s companies (Clarendon Ltd.) for fraudulently obtaining government contracts by concealing its ties to Rich. Holder’s office investigated the case for a year before filing a complaint that exuded familiarity with Rich’s fraud and obstruction of justice. In a highly unusual move given that Rich was then a notorious fugitive, Holder’s office obtained an affidavit from Rich – through Rich’s counsel – in the course of settlement negotiations. And when the settlement was reached, requiring the company to pay the government $1.2 million, Holder crowed about the settlement in a statement to the press (about which the Wall Street Journal published a report on April 13, 1995). Holder explained to the Journal that the settlement ended a broader investigation his office had been conducting into the fugitive’s business interests.
When Obama nominated Holder to be his attorney general, the Senate judiciary committee obviously did not know about the Rich investigation Holder’s office had conducted in 1995. Consequently, Holder stuck to the story he had told during the pardon investigation in 2001: He barely knew Rich’s name. Holder, who had slyly told Clinton he was “neutral leaning in favor” of the Rich pardon he’d helped orchestrate, told the judiciary committee, “I should not have spoken to the White House and expressed an opinion without knowing all the facts with regard to that matter.”
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. Directly asked by Senator Arlen Specter, “Were you aware of this kind of a record this man had,” Holder responded, “No I was not. 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 he did know the underlying facts of Rich’s case.
I became aware of Holder’s 1995 investigation of Rich after Holder’s confirmation-hearing testimony, but wrote about it before the vote on his nomination. This demonstration that Holder had given misleading testimony to Congress in the 2001 pardon investigation and the 2009 confirmation hearing, simply added to the Rich pardon itself and the remaining mountain of reasons to reject his nomination. Yet, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm him, 75-21. Joining 54 Democrats were 19 Republicans – Alexander (Tenn.), Bennett (Utah), Bond (Mo.), Chambliss (Ga.), Collins (Maine), Corker (Tenn.), Graham (S.C.), Grassley (Iowa), Gregg (N.H.), Hatch (Utah), Isakson (Ga.), Kyl (Ariz.), Lugar (Ind.), McCain (Ariz.), Murkowski (Alaska), Sessions (Ala.), Snowe (Maine), Specter (Pa.), and Voinovich (Ohio).
This is the second time in a year and a half that I’ve had occasion to remind incensed lawmakers that we knew all about Holder’s testimonial proclivities before he was confirmed. The last time involved Holder’s dubious claim at an oversight-committee hearing that he’d only recently heard about the Justice Department’s lethally reckless Fast & Furious program. And now Holder’s testimony about targeting reporters cannot be squared with the emerging facts.
The Senate was given an advice-and-consent duty for a reason. If senators will not perform that duty responsibly, this is where we end up.