Bench Memos

Eric Holder’s Pretense

Attorney General Eric Holder recently explained that the Obama administration was taking so long to nominate United States Attorneys because, in supposed contrast to the George W. Bush administration, it was looking so hard for the “best people”—“people who are highly qualified, who understand what immense power they will be given as United States attorneys, who understand that they are to enforce the law in an impartial, nonpolitical way.”  That explanation seems difficult to reconcile with—to cite one example that a reader has brought to my attention—President Obama’s nomination of Nicholas Klinefeldt to be U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. 

Klinefeldt’s professional qualifications hardly render him “highly qualified”:  He’s an associate at a Des Moines law firm and all of 35 years old.  He’s tried one federal criminal case and three to five small-claims matters.

What is most clearly “highly qualified” about Klinefeldt are his political connections:  counsel for the Iowa Democratic Party from fall 2006 to March 2009 (the latter date presumably being the time he applied to become U.S. Attorney); state counsel to the 2008 Obama presidential campaign; and formerly a staff assistant to Senator Tom Harkin and field organizer for one of Harkin’s re-election campaigns.  (I’ve drawn this information from this page (registration required).)

My point is not to contend that there is anything exceptional about Klinefeldt’s nomination.  As I wrote about some of the hysteria over President Bush’s dismissal of U.S. Attorneys:

No one (especially no one on the Hill) should be surprised, much less scandalized, that political favorites get political appointments.  That’s true in every Administration. 

My point instead is to take issue with Holder’s pretense that Obama’s DOJ is supposedly above politics (and to blame nomination delays on that fiction).  Unfortunately, the opposite appears to be the case.  There’s already plenty of disturbing evidence, as Jennifer Rubin summed it up in her recent Weekly Standard essay, giving rise to “a growing concern that the Obama administration is politicizing the department in ways the Bush team never imagined.”