December 4, 2011
The Ethics of Eric HolderBy Ronald Kolb
When Attorney General Eric Holder recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his role in the Fast and Furious operation, where 2,000 rifles were deliberately "walked" from the United States into Mexico, his answers at times seemed incredible and stretched the limits of believability.
A few months earlier, on May the third, Holder had testified before the House that he had only recently learned of the deadly and disastrous operation.
But a series of memos was uncovered by CBS News last October showing that during 2010, Holder had received at least five different notices concerning Fast and Furious from Michael Walther, the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center. He also received another memo from Assistant Attorney General (and long-time associate) Lanny Breuer.
But at the recent hearing, Holder stated three times that he had learned of Fast and Furious only earlier this year, after the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in Arizona. Five times Holder testified that he never saw any of the damning memos.
Senator John Cornyn from Texas queried Holder. "Those are memos with your name on it, addressed to you, referring to the Fast and Furious operation. Are you just saying you didn't read them?"
"I didn't receive them," answered Holder. "They are reviewed by my staff and a determination made as to what ought to be brought to my attention."
Cornyn then asked Holder if he had apologized to Brian Terry's family. The exchange that followed showed a coldness and lack of sensitivity that was truly stunning.
But Holder continued. "It is not fair, however, to assume that the mistakes that led to Fast and Furious directly led to the death of Agent Terry."
The day following the hearings, the Terry family responded to Holder with a terse and angry statement. "Mr. Holder needs to own Fast and Furious ... the Attorney General should accept responsibility immediately. It is without question, the right thing to do."
That very same day, in an apparent attempt at damage control, Holder responded with a letter addressed to Terry's parents which he immediately leaked to the press before both parents had the opportunity to read it.
None of these events should be surprising considering Mr. Holder's controversial history.
The two events that Eric Holder is most defined by before becoming attorney general were his key roles while in the Clinton administration in obtaining freedom for members of the Puerto Rican nationalist terrorist group known as the FALN (also known as the Armed Forces of National Liberation). Holder would later follow that by facilitating a pardon for fugitive billionaire Marc Rich.
In looking back at both of those controversies, the similarities to Fast and Furious now seem eerie. Holder had proclaimed sympathy for the FALN victims, but only after the terrorists had been released. He also proclaimed ignorance of both Mr. Rich and the case against him, even though the facts clearly suggest otherwise.
The FALN had conducted a deadly bombing campaign in numerous cities around America during the 1970s and '80s, setting off nearly 140 bombs that killed six and injured more than 80. Their most notorious act was the bombing of Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan in 1975, which killed four and injured 60 others, some of them seriously.
What slowed the FALN's reign of terror was the arrest and incarceration of nearly all of the group's members during the early eighties. When Eric Holder arrived as deputy attorney general in Janet Reno's Justice Department in 1997, he quickly took up the cause of freeing the FALN, and it became a near-obsession.
Holder met with advocates for the FALN's clemency at least nine times over the next two years, but he deliberately kept the victims of the deadly and unrepentant terrorist group out of the process. He also never spoke with any prosecutors or law enforcement who had been involved with the FALN's capture and prosecution.
In December of 1996, in the months before Holder's arrival, then-pardon attorney Margaret Love had issued a report recommending against clemency for the FALN and their closely allied group, the Macheteros (machete-wielders). The latter group was primarily based in Puerto Rico and had killed six there in a number of armed attacks.
Mr. Holder was sworn in as deputy attorney general on Friday, July 18, 1997. In Holder's first full working day the following Monday, pardon attorney staffer Susan Kuzma -- who had previously served in the Public Integrity office with Holder during the 1980s -- sent Love a memo questioning her 1996 report that had rejected clemency.
By November, Holder had fired Love and replaced her with Roger Adams, who was then a member of Holder's staff. That same month, Holder and Adams began meeting with advocates of clemency for the terrorist group.
Years later, in 2009 (and just prior to Mr. Holder's confirmation hearings before the Senate), the Los Angeles Times uncovered the fact that Holder ordered Adams to rewrite the Love report and change it to a recommendation favoring clemency.
Adams still had misgivings, so he sent a report to Holder that the terrorists should still be denied clemency. Undeterred, Holder ordered Adams to revise it. On August 31, 1998, Adams finally sent Holder the revised report, but he warned Holder's chief of staff, Kevin Ohlson, in a separate memo that if the report became public, it "would be disastrous."
In the report that Adams sent to Holder, he wrote that "I continue to have concerns," including about the fact that the victims had not been notified and that clemency could also undermine investigations and prosecutions of co-conspirators among the two allied terrorist groups.
Holder quickly came up with the idea of an "options memo," to be prepared and sent to Bill Clinton, that contained no specific recommendations. Acting on Ohlson's orders, Adams complied.
But Holder's efforts still languished until early 1999, when Hillary Clinton announced that she was running for an open Senate seat in New York.
Between March and July of 1999, White House staff with ties to Mrs. Clinton began frequent meetings with FALN advocates, and soon White House Counsel Charles Ruff became involved. In July, Mr. Holder was turned to for an assist, and the Holder/Adams "options memo" went to Ruff on the 8th.
And in a move that would remain hidden until 2009, Holder had sent Mr. Clinton his own personal recommendation for clemency. That memo was acknowledged by Holder, but Mr. Clinton (and now President Obama) refused to make it public.
Ruff also sent his own report to Clinton in early August, but the final catalyst occurred on August 9. According to the New Republic, Mrs. Clinton met with a handful of FALN supporters, including then-New York City councilman Jose Rivera, who gave Hillary a packet concerning clemency for the FALN, along with a letter asking her to "speak with her husband about granting executive clemency."
On the morning of August 11, 1999, Mr. Clinton announced the offer of clemency to twelve members of the FALN along with four Macheteros, and the news stunned both the victims of the FALN and many members of law enforcement.
To make the offer more palatable to the public, Eric Holder had concocted a plan to have the terrorists express remorse for their actions. But none of them would accept, and the situation went from bad to worse. As the days passed and criticism continued, pressure from the Clinton administration intensified for the terrorists to accept the offer.
Finally, on September 7 -- a full four weeks after the offer had first been made -- all but one member each from the FALN and the Macheteros decided to accept. Three days later, eleven FALN members were freed from numerous federal prisons around the country. Within days, both the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to condemn the action.
Congressional hearings were called to investigate the events surrounding the pardons. On September 16, Clinton issued a blanket order of executive privilege in an attempt to fend them off.
On October 20, 1999, Holder appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In both Holder's opening oral and written statements, he stated that "I wish to begin by extending my heartfelt sympathy to those victims and their families whose lives were tragically affected by the criminal conduct of the FALN."
Holder continued by saying that "[i]t is difficult to fully comprehend the extent of the pain and suffering these victims were forced to endure. ... I want the victims of FALN violence to know that our thoughts and prayers remain with them now and in the future."
However, Holder was forced to deal again with the victims during his testimony. Four different senators asked Holder why none of them had been contacted before clemency was offered.
The first exchange was with Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah.
Holder was asked the same question by Senators Grassley (Iowa), Kyl (Arizona), and Ashcroft (Missouri) and gave the same response. What none of them knew at the time was that Holder had deliberately avoided contacting the victims and had met repeatedly with FALN advocates in his personal obsession to free them.
Whenever questions focused on his own role, Holder would either refer to executive privilege -- which he did 40 times -- or shift the blame for the clemency offer to Mr. Clinton -- which he did 15 times.
The most egregious and bizarre claims of executive privilege came in exchanges with Senator -- and Judiciary Chairman -- Orrin Hatch. The 1996 report from Margaret Love that had recommended against clemency was accidentally released to the committee, and Hatch asked Holder to comment on it.
Later, Hatch asked Holder about the 1999 report that he and Roger Adams prepared that effectively replaced the 1996 Love report that recommended against clemency.
The befuddled senator never received an answer.
Hatch also asked if there had been any attempt to obtain information from those offered clemency concerning some of their co-conspirators who remained at large.
FALN bomb-maker William Morales was -- and still is -- hiding in Cuba. Macheteros Victor Gerena and Filiberto Ojeda-Rios were on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list (Gerena has now been on that list for a record 27 years, and Rios was killed in an FBI shootout in 2005).
Holder replied that "to my knowledge[,] those requests were not placed."
Holder tried to shift the blame to Clinton. "Well, as I said, the power of the president is absolute in these areas...again, it is for the president to decide."
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama then quoted from a report from Janet Reno's office written the previous month that was leaked just prior to Holder's testimony. It mentioned the threat of increased violence from the "impending release from prison" of members of Puerto Rican terrorist groups.
Holder answered that "I think that given the terms under which these folks were released, which is where they had to indicate that they renounced violence, makes the report language you cited, it seems to me, a little inapplicable."
On October 21, at a bizarre press conference the day following the hearing, Holder dug himself in deeper. "What I was trying to tell the Committee yesterday was that the Attorney General's report clearly did not refer to these people [the FALN], given the fact that they have, as a condition of release, renounced violence."
One day later, Jack Quinn -- the influential former White House counsel for Bill Clinton as well as the former chief of staff for Al Gore -- met with Deputy Attorney General Holder. Quinn was now the legal representative for fugitive billionaire Marc Rich.
A look back at Holder's actions during the Rich pardon gives an even fuller insight into the dubious and corrupt political opportunist that he was then and still is today.
In September of 1983, commodities trader and financier Marc Rich and his business partner Pincus Green were the targets of a 51-count indictment that included charges of evading $48 million in taxes, trading oil with Iran while Iran was under a U.S. embargo, and additional charges of racketeering and fraud. It was the largest tax fraud case in U.S. history.
At the time of the indictment, Rich and Green had already fled to Switzerland and were living in luxury. Extra charges were added in March of 1984, making it a 65-count indictment.
By 1999, when Rich's attorney, Jack Quinn, approached Eric Holder for help, Mr. Rich was listed on the Interagency International Fugitive List as WANTED by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Customs Service, and the U.S. Marshal Service.
Rich was also listed on the Justice Department's website as an international fugitive. The posting further noted that the U.S. "will pay a reward for information that leads to the arrest of Marc David Rich." Rich was also posted on Interpol's "Red Alert" list.
Quinn first tried to use a more than willing Holder to obtain a deal from prosecutors for his client, but when that scheme failed in early 2000, Quinn would return to Holder later that same year for help -- this time in attempting to obtain a pardon. Quinn would later state -- and Holder eventually admit -- that he had dangled the attorney general post before Holder in a potential Gore administration.
Holder would claim over the coming years that he was not familiar with who Marc Rich was -- and then gain only a passing familiarity with his case -- even after discussing Rich's case with Quinn at least nine times between October 1999 and January 2001.
In 1976, Holder had first arrived in Washington as a member of the newly formed Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice. He departed that office in 1988.
Between October 18, 1982 and July 10, 1984, the Washington Post ran five front-page stories focusing on Marc Rich. One of three stories from 1983 focused on the infamous "steamer trunk affair" from that August, where Rich had unsuccessfully attempted to transport subpoenaed documents to Switzerland that were recovered at the last moment from a Swissair flight on the runway at Kennedy airport (located in Holder's hometown of Queens, New York).
The following month, another front-page story from the Post focused on the indictment of Rich, correctly calling it "the largest tax-evasion indictment in U.S. history." The newspaper ran at least 16 other stories that focused on Rich between 1983 and 1989, and five of those stories were posted on the front page of the Business section.
It would also be discovered (and reported by National Review's Andy McCarthy in 2009, just prior to Holder's planned confirmation vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee) that Holder as U.S. attorney in Washington in 1995 had settled a multimillion-dollar fraud case between the Treasury Department and Mr. Rich.
And in February of 2000, soon after Quinn's and Holder's plan to cut a deal for Rich with New York prosecutors fell through, Quinn sent Holder a memo of talking points entitled "Why DOJ (Justice Department) Should Review the Marc Rich Indictment."
Before prosecutors totally rejected a deal for Mr. Rich, Holder and Quinn stayed in constant touch after their initial contact in the fall of 1999. According to notes that Quinn kept of a phone call from Holder on November 8, Quinn quoted Holder as saying that he would "do what he can" and that it was "ridiculous" that prosecutors in New York were refusing to even discuss the case with Rich's attorneys.
Quinn's notes then included Holder's suggestion to "send letter to Mary Jo" (White -- who was then the prosecutor), and to "cc" a copy back to him. When Holder received his copy of the letter, he replied to Quinn that "we'll call her and say she should do it."
The notes added that Holder had advised Quinn to be "reasonable and conciliatory" when sending the letter. Incredibly, the deputy attorney general was now giving advice to assist the biggest tax evader in history in having his charges dismissed.
Quinn's letter was sent to White on December 1, and over the next two months before White's office replied, Holder and Quinn still remained in contact. After one conversation, Quinn noted that Holder had "spoke[n] to MJ" White, and "she didn't sound like her guard was up." After a further conversation with Holder, Quinn asked, "Deal?" Holder replied, "Yeah, think so. We're all sympathetic. Equities are on your side."
But the deal was flatly rejected in early February, and by mid-March of 2000, Quinn and the rest of Rich's legal team began making plans to obtain a presidential pardon for their fugitive client. Quinn returned to Holder for help that November after the election.
Meanwhile, the Rich legal team moved on what Quinn called the "GOI" (government of Israel) front. Rich began donating what would total 200 million dollars to Jewish and Israeli foundations over the next months. And according to reports in the Israeli press, at least 120 thousand dollars of Rich's money ended up in then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak's campaign. Barak would come to play an important role in the coming months.
Quinn touched base again with Holder on November 17 and sent an e-mail to a colleague the following day. Quinn wrote that he "spoke to him [Holder] last evening. he says go straight to wh [White House]. also says timing is good."
On the 21st, Quinn met with Holder personally and discussed the pardon petition (Holder later said he couldn't remember the meeting). Holder told Quinn that he didn't need a copy of the petition, and to just have White House Counsel Beth Nolan "call him."
What Holder was suggesting was to bypass Pardon Attorney Roger Adams, who would have been obliged to contact the prosecutors. Holder already knew that the prosecutors would vehemently object.
On December 11, Quinn gave the pardon petition to Nolan and suggested that she contact Holder for his input.
That same day, Ehud Barak called Clinton and (according to transcripts prepared by the National Security staff), at the end of the 20-minute call, Barak brought up Rich, and noted that he had made many "philanthropic contributions." Barak hoped that Clinton would "consider" the case.
On January 6, Beth Nolan contacted Holder for his input on the pardons for both Rich and his business partner Pincus Green (whom Quinn was also representing). Holder told her that his position was "neutral' in pardoning the two fugitives.
On January 8, Ehud Barak called Clinton again. And just like the first call, Rich came up at the end:
On January 10, Quinn sent Holder a copy of a letter that he had sent Clinton five days earlier where he stated that "I believe in this case with all my heart."
Quinn added a cover letter for Holder. "Dear Eric: I hope you can say that you agree with this letter. Your saying positive things can make this happen. Thanks for your consideration. Sincerely, Jack Quinn."
Quinn sent the letter to Holder, but since it dealt with pardons, it went instead to Roger Adams (where a petition should actually have gone months earlier). Adams's staff realized that it was meant for Holder and forwarded a copy to him, where it arrived on the 17th. Holder's staff would later say that he received it, but Holder denied that he ever did.
Adams finally saw a copy on the 19th, and he drafted a short response saying that Rich and Green should request petition forms. Adams decided to hold the response until Monday the 22nd, thinking that Clinton would have no time to pardon them before leaving office.
The rest of the events over the next two days would prove to be both stunning and disheartening.
At 2:47 p.m., Clinton called Ehud Barak, and this time Clinton brought up Rich:
At 6:30 p.m., Quinn called Holder and told him that the Rich pardon was under serious consideration at the White House, and that they would soon be contacting him for his input.
Quinn mentioned Ehud Barak's support for a pardon, and his notes show that Holder had "no personal prob," and that his personal feeling was "not strongly against it," but that the prosecutors would "howl."
Quinn quickly called Nolan's White House Counsel's office and told them that Holder was "neutral, leaning favorable." Nolan promptly called Holder back at 6:38. Holder then repeated that he was now "neutral, leaning favorable" and had heard that Ehud Barak was now "interested."
After Holder hung up, Nolan informed the staff that Holder now supported a pardon -- to the surprise of the others. Stunned staff member Eric Angel said, "Why the f--- would he say that?"
At 7:00 p.m., Nolan and Angel were joined by White House staffers Bruce Lindsey, Meredith Cabe, and others for a staff meeting with Clinton, and the discussion focused on pardons -- the last being for Marc Rich.
Clinton noted that Ehud Barak had called him and raised the issue (even though it was Clinton who had called and raised the issue). The staff expressed strong opposition, but then Nolan dropped a bomb. She said that Holder was "leaning toward" a pardon.
When the meeting ended, no one was sure what Clinton would do. He then returned a call from Jack Quinn, and he agreed with Quinn's suggestion that the case against Rich was a civil and not a criminal one.
Clinton then informed Nolan and Lindsey that he was going to issue pardons, and to contact the Pardon Attorney office. Just past midnight, Cabe reached Roger Adams, and then faxed him a list of those being pardoned. Adams noted Rich and Green on the list, but no information was included.
Nolan's office then faxed the pardon petition to Adams, and he realized that Rich and Green were fugitives. At that point, the FBI faxed the required NCIC check to Adams. It showed the indictment that was still pending, and added that the two were wanted for arms trading.
Adams faxed a summary to the White House but was still worried that pardons would be issued. At 1:00 a.m. he contacted the Justice Department Command Center in an attempt to track down Holder.
Adams reached Holder at his home, and he informed him that Clinton was seriously considering pardons for the two fugitives. Holder told Adams that he was aware of that fact, and the conversation abruptly ended.
Holder would tell Congress -- and later the Washington Post --that he had been distracted by other issues that night. On other occasions, he would tell Congress that after he had given his recommendation hours earlier, he thought the pardons would still not be issued.
But Holder would also testify that when he received the warning call from Adams, he thought that Clinton had already made up his mind.
Even at that point, there was still one last chance to prevent the pardons. Nolan's staff was concerned about the the NCIC listing of arms trading, and at 2:00 a.m., an angry Jack Quinn assured them that there was nothing else.
At 2:30 a.m., Nolan called Clinton and expressed her concerns, saying that all they had was Quinn's assurance. Clinton's response was to "take Jack's word." And with that, Marc Rich and his legal team -- with a huge assist from Eric Holder -- finally achieved their goal.
But Holder's abysmal behavior wasn't finished. By January 22, the issue of the Rich pardon had fully erupted (and would continue for days). It was in that context when Quinn spoke to Holder that day. After Janet Reno's departure two days earlier (and with John Ashcroft's confirmation still days away), Holder was now acting attorney general.
Quinn again took notes, which he e-mailed to other members of the team late that afternoon. "Just spoke to Holder. Said I did a very good job and that he thinks we [should] be better about getting the merits of the case out publicly." Holder added that the press should know about the "support of [Ehud] Barak."
Holder then advised Quinn that he needed to have travel restrictions and arrest warrants lifted for Rich and Green, and to contact Interpol about Clinton's decision.
Then, unbelievably, Holder advised Quinn to go to the Federal Courthouse in Manhattan and move to have the indictment dismissed -- in case the prosecutors had not.
By early February, Holder was under severe criticism. Crossing paths with reporters, Holder said that "I'll be talking about that later."
On February 6, Ehud Barak lost reelection as prime minister of Israel in an unprecedented landslide to Ariel Sharon. Two days later, Holder appeared before the House Government Reform committee.
In his eight-minute opening statement (and with Quinn sitting right beside him), he said that "efforts to portray me as intimately involved or overly interested in this matter are simply at odds with the facts ... and it does not now stick in my memory."
He added that when he was first approached by Jack Quinn, "Mr. Rich's name was unfamiliar to me." He added that "consequently, I gained only a passing familiarity with the underlying facts of the Rich case."
On the meeting between him and Quinn the previous November 21 about a potential pardon, Holder said that "I have no memory of that conversation, but do not question Mr. Quinn's assertion."
About the conversation with Quinn after the pardon on January 22, Holder said that "[a]t no time did I congratulate Mr. Quinn about his efforts. If I said anything to him about his having done a good job, it was merely a polite acknowledgment of the obvious[.]"
After admitting that he'd had "conversations" with Jack Quinn about becoming attorney general under Gore, Holder told Committee Chairman Dan Burton from Indiana that "[m]y actions in in this matter were in no way affected by my desire to become Attorney General of the United States, or any desires I had to influence or seek to curry favor with anybody."
Congressman Paul Kanjorski told Holder that "I do find some of these positions almost incredible from the standpoint -- when you first heard the name Rich from Mr. Quinn that triggered no idea who that was?
Later Kanjorski asked, "Did you know whether he was a fugitive?"
Moments later, Holder testified that, "I never really thought that this case was going to move, using your term, given the fact that he was a fugitive ... if I'd known, obviously, that it was going to turn out this way, I mean, I would have done things differently."
Later there was this exchange with Bob Barr from Georgia:
Holder concluded his testimony before the House by telling the reform committee's chief counsel, James Wilson, the following about his determination on the Rich pardon:
Still Holder continued. "Perhaps I didn't do as good a job with her -- or with you. It seems kind of clear to me, but I guess I haven't explained it as well as I might."
Six days later, on February 14, 2001, Holder appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This time, though, Pardon Attorney Roger Adams was seated next to him. In Adam's opening statement, he spoke about the call he made to Holder on the early morning of January 20 after learning that Rich and Green were fugitives.
Adams stated that he "immediately contacted Deputy Attorney General Holder at home, through the Justice Department Command Center, to alert him that the president was considering granting pardons to two men. Mr. Holder indicated to me that he was aware of the pending clemency requests of Rich and Green."
Holder then spoke about the events of the 19th and 20th, saying that he was "extremely busy that day and particularly that night." He assumed that the pardon request went to the Justice Department for review. He assumed that staff contacts were going on between his office, the pardon attorney's office, and the White House.
He did not think he was the only person in the Justice Department aware of the pardon. He added that by the time he got the warning call from Adams on the morning of the 20th, "I thought that a decision had been made, that the president had rendered a decision, had made up his mind...so I took no action at that point."
Holder told Ohio Senator Mike Dewine that "I did not think, given the fact that he was a fugitive, that this ever was a matter likely to be successfully concluded from Mr. Rich's perspective." Holder then told Jon Kyl from Arizona that "my interaction with the White House I did not view as a recommendation," but there were "certain things I would have done differently."
In March of 2002, the House Government Reform Committee issued their final report on the Clinton pardons. In quoting from the report, the New York Times noted that Holder was a "willing participant in the plan to keep the Justice Department from knowing about and and opposing a pardon" for Rich.
The article noted that Holder admitted discussing becoming attorney general in a Gore administration with Jack Quinn, and that Holder's conduct was "unconscionable." The House report itself noted that Holder's actions were "pivotal" and had a "critical impact."
The report's devastating conclusion was that Holder had "abdicated his responsibilities" as deputy attorney general.
Just two years later, at a Washington, D.C. dinner party in the fall of 2004, Holder met a newly elected senator from Illinois named Barack Obama, and the two bonded immediately.
In 2006, Holder contributed $2,000 to Senator Obama's Hopefund PAC. Also that year, Holder donated to Senator Pat Leahy's PAC -- another man who would help control Holder's destiny. In 2007, Holder donated $2,300 (the maximum) to both Obama's primary and general election campaigns.
That August, Holder was mentioned in the Chicago Tribune as a potential attorney general in an Obama administration. In June of 2008, the American Lawyer wrote that Holder was "playing a variety of positions" for Team Obama.
Obama became the presumptive nominee on June 3, and the following day he named Mr. Holder to help choose his running mate. But later that evening, the AP posted a story about Holder's ties to the Rich pardon. At a press conference six days later, Obama sidestepped questions about Holder's past. That August, Joe Biden was chosen as the running mate.
On November 18, two weeks after the election, Holder's name was leaked to the press that he would soon be nominated for Attorney General. An AP story noted that in the prior week, members of Obama's team had polled the incoming Senate in an attempt to nail down the post that Holder had so long coveted.
On December 1, Obama made it official, saying that Holder had the "talent and commitment" to succeed as attorney general and would "protect the people and uphold the public trust."
In late December, the Boston Globe reported that members of the Obama transition team had been coaching Holder to "prepare" him for what would likely be tough questioning for his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On January 9, the Los Angeles Times reported in a front-page story about Holder's years-long obsession with freeing the FALN. On January 13 -- and two days prior to the hearings -- Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy told the Legal Times that Holder displayed "independent judgment" in helping to facilitate clemency for the FALN, and that debating the issue was only a "rehash."
The hearings began on the bitterly cold morning of January 15, 2009, and Holder addressed terrorism midway through his opening statement: "I will work to strengthen the activities of the Federal government to protect the American people from terrorism. Nothing will be more important."
Soon, though, Holder was forced to address the FALN issue. He told Senator Sessions from Alabama that what Bill Clinton had done was "reasonable."
Then Senator Cornyn from Texas got to the heart of the matter:
Holder then told Cornyn that "I think the decision was made in a pre-9/11 context."
But Holder neglected to mention that in the years preceding the clemencies were the attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993, killing six, and the twin African embassy bombings in 1998, killing more than 200.
Holder then admitted to Senator Coburn from Oklahoma about freeing the FALN terrorists that:
But Holder had contacted neither law enforcement nor the victims.
Senator Grassley began his questioning after the lunch recess. The hearing room was darkened, and the now-infamous FBI surveillance tape showing now-freed FALN members Edwin Cortez and Alejandrina Torres constructing bombs was shown.
When the lights went back up, Holder told Grassley that "I've not seen that video before."
Moments later, he changed his story, telling Grassley that "I think I've seen it in some news accounts in the recent past, like, in the last week or so, something like that."
Holder then told Grassley that he wasn't aware of any threats by the FALN towards Judge Thomas McMillen at their sentencing in Chicago in 1981. For example, FALN member Carmen Valentine told McMillen that "you are lucky we cannot take you right now."
Holder then told Grassley that "I'm not sure I ever described them as non-violent...it's a difference between -- let's hypothetically say -- murder and attempted murder."
Then Holder told Senator Sessions that "I looked into the situation, took into account the fact that these people were not directly involved in incidents that led to death or -- or injuries...it seemed to me that the clemency grant given was appropriate."
What Holder failed to mention was that most of the FALN members who received pardons were arrested in April 1980 near Chicago, and that 29 bombings had earlier been carried out in the Chicago area between 1975 and 1979. Nine people had been injured, some of them seriously.
When the subject moved to the Marc Rich pardon, Holder's testimony was a tour de force of evasive and misleading statements, and his memory often failed him.
Holder told Senator Specter from Pennsylvania that he didn't remember telling Jack Quinn to avoid the Justice Department and go straight to the White House, yet moments later said that "I never told Quinn to go straight to the White House."
Holder told Senator Grassley that he was not familiar with the Rich case and that he "assumed" that the prosecutors and Justice Department were involved. He further said that he wasn't "particularly sympathetic" to the case, that he didn't do "anything affirmatively to make it happen, and that "I should have made sure that I was better informed ... about the history of Mr. Rich."
About the 1 a.m. warning call on Jan. 20 from Roger Adams alerting Holder of the impending Rich pardon: "I thought we were dealing with a fait accompli, that the president had already made up his mind."
Then Holder went through a series of pointed questions from Grassley, and his memory seemed to fail. Grassley asked if Holder remembered saying that there would be "a howl" from the prosecutors.
But things for Holder weren't quite over yet. On January 21, 2009 -- the first full day of the Obama administration, and only minutes before the full committee was scheduled to vote on Holder -- Andy McCarthy of National Review published an article about the Clarendon Ltd. settlement from 1995 involving Marc Rich and Eric Holder.
That article, along with the fears of some senators that Holder may prosecute Bush administration officials over terrorist policy, caused a one-week delay in the vote.
During the hearings, Specter asked Holder if he had been aware of what kind of record Marc Rich had.
"No, I was not," replied Holder. "I did not acquaint myself with his record. I knew that the matter involved -- it was a tax fraud case; it was a substantial tax fraud case."
That case was USA vs. Clarendon Ltd. The company was one that Rich owned 49% of, and one of the commodities it traded in was metals -- copper, nickel, and zinc.
Between 1988 and 1991, the company had obtained 22 contacts totaling 45 million dollars to supply coinage metal to the U.S. Mint. But they had fraudulently withheld Rich's name (who was then a fugitive) from the contracts.
The contracts ceased, and the government sued, and the case was handled by the U.S. attorney's office in Washington. Mr. Holder arrived as the U. S. attorney there in October of 1993, and the case was settled between Holder's office and Mr. Rich in April 1995. Rich agreed to pay the government 1.2 million dollars, and he even swore out an affidavit and sent it to Washington from Switzerland.
The problem for Holder was that he has repeatedly said that he was unfamiliar with both Marc Rich and the case against him, even though the Clarendon case, along with a mountain of other evidence, shows otherwise.
He also claimed -- just like he would later do during Fast and Furious -- that his staff had kept him in the dark. In the Clarendon case, it involved a multimillion-dollar fraud and a settlement with a fugitive. In Fast and Furious, it involves 2,000 guns running untracked into Mexico, resulting in murder and violence in the present and into the future.
But in 2009, as expected, Mr. Holder was confirmed, even though half the Republicans refused to fall in line and accept the inevitable.
Now, Mr. Holder is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on December 8 to discuss the deadly gunrunning scandal, and if past is prologue, then the Committee should know what to expect.
Looking back in history at the list of former attorneys general, two from the recent past seem to stand out. Robert F. Kennedy chose -- at some personal risk -- to take on not only organized crime, but the corrupt Teamsters union. John Mitchell became entangled in Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal and was convicted of multiple felonies.
It's quite obvious which category Mr. Holder belongs in. Scandal seems to follow him wherever he goes, and now, either through incompetence or malfeasance, the road has led to Fast and Furious.
Every day that Mr. Holder now remains attorney general further diminishes the office, and the Justice Department's reputation as well.
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