Politics & Policy

Holder’s Dubious History

The AG’s Fast & Furious amnesia is reminiscent of his Marc Rich amnesia.

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?”

#page#

Here’s Holder’s response:

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.

In written follow-up questions, Specter pressed again: “Did you receive information about the facts of the Rich case from anyone other than Mr. Rich’s attorney, Jack Quinn?”

Holder tersely responded, “No.”

#ad#Yet, as I pointed out in the days before Holder’s confirmation, none of this appears to have been true. It is a virtual certainty that Holder knew quite a bit about Rich, years before he was approached to assist the Rich pardon effort.

Before becoming deputy attorney general, Holder was the Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. In 1995 — years before Holder got his talking points from Quinn — Holder’s office filed a civil suit against a Swiss trading company called Clarendon, Ltd. Why? Because, in obtaining $45 million in government contracts, Clarendon had concealed its intimate relationship with the dastardly, notorious federal fugitive . . . Marc Rich.

It turned out that Holder’s office had been conducting an investigation into Rich and his business interests for tax evasion and other suspicious activity. Not surprisingly, then, the civil complaint U.S. attorney Holder filed against Clarendon exuded familiarity with Rich. Indeed, the premise of the complaint was that Rich’s sordid history of fraud and his status as a fugitive from justice rendered him ineligible for government contracts. Therefore, the suit alleged, Clarendon was liable for hiding the fact that Rich controlled the company.

The complaint screams out knowledge of Rich’s corporate holdings and his tortuous efforts to obscure his connection to the company. Holder’s office also recounted that Rich had blatantly obstructed justice in a grand-jury investigation. One of his companies ended up paying $21 million in contempt fines, the complaint reported. And although a number of Rich companies ended up pleading guilty to various charges, Holder’s office took pains to point out that their “plea agreement did not resolve any of the personal charges pertaining to Rich” and his accomplice, Pincus Green. Those charges, the complaint asserted, “remained outstanding.”

And the matter doesn’t stop at the complaint. Holder’s office held extensive negotiations with Clarendon and, as it happens, Clarendon’s principal. Astoundingly, Holder’s office not only had discussions with company attorneys but actually accepted an affidavit from Rich — then one of the country’s most infamous fugitives — in the course of settling the case.

Ultimately, U.S Attorney Holder agreed to dismiss the case in exchange for a payment to the government of $1.2 million. Naturally, though, it was not enough just to reach a settlement. Justice Department officials like to trumpet the conclusion of their high-profile cases as successes, and D.C.’s United States attorney was no exception. On April 13, 1995, the Wall Street Journal reported Holder’s public announcement of the settlement and of the fact that his office was ending its probe of the Rich conglomerate.

To summarize, at the pardon hearings in 2001, Eric Holder testified before Congress that he had barely known who Marc Rich was when he went to bat for Rich in 1999 and 2000. At his confirmation hearing in 2009, Holder repeated this testimony that errors in judgment had stemmed from his failure to acquaint himself with Rich’s sordid record. In point of fact, however, Holder had actually overseen an investigation of Rich and his companies years earlier, precisely premised on the fact that a Rich company had hidden its connection to the fugitive and his extensive record of fraud and obstruction. Holder had even publicly announced a lucrative settlement.

Sound familiar?

#page#

None of this is new news. While the Senate was considering Holder’s nomination, I laid the facts out in an NRO column on January 21, 2009. Four days later, I reported that Holder had again claimed ignorance about Rich in his written answers to follow-up questions. I pleaded that he be further pressed on the matter — not only by Republicans but by Democrats who, during the tenure of Bush AG Alberto Gonzales, had been strident in emphasizing the obligation of attorneys general to provide Congress with truthful, accurate testimony.

#ad#Alas, Senate Republicans were apparently mollified by private assurances Holder reportedly made to them to the effect that, if he were confirmed, the Justice Department would not seek to prosecute officials involved in the Bush-era enhanced-interrogation program. (I’m constrained to observe that, in the event, Holder reopened investigations against CIA officers involved in the program and continued professional-responsibility probes of Bush DOJ officials who had provided opinions about the program’s legal validity.) Cowed by the prospect of opposing confirmation of the nation’s first African-American attorney general — as if there were anything wrong with rejecting a nominee of any heritage who had a record as checkered as Holder’s — the senators decided Holder’s troubling testimony was not worth pursuing. He was confirmed 75 to 21, with substantial GOP support.

You reap what you sow.

 —Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.

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