Holder as AG: Here We Go

Newsweek is reporting that President-elect Obama has tapped former Clinton Deputy AG Eric Holder to be his new AG. Despite my general desire that the AG’s party should be different than the party in power, I think it’s a good choice: Holder is a very professional guy, experienced at running the department, a former judge, and a tough anti-corruption prosecutor. People in the US Attorney’s Office in LA had great respect for him.

Expect the right wing outrage machine to quickly spring into action. They will insist that Holder was somehow involved with Clinton’s last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Don’t believe a word of it. The “evidence” that they will offer for this is a “report” generated by the House Government Reform Committee chaired by that paragon of nonpartisan judiciousness, Dan Burton.

Essentially, what happened was that Rich’s attorneys came to Holder in the waning days (hours?) of the Clinton Administration with the pardon request. Holder didn’t know much about it, and he referred them to White House Counsel Jack Quinn (updated). Yes, Rich was a fugitive, but Holder didn’t know anything about the case, so he didn’t express an opinion.

That’s it. That’s the whole thing. That’s what is going to get Limbaugh, and Hannity, and Fox Noise, and O’Reilly, and all of them so shocked, shocked, about the appointment.

It’s garbage. They know it’s garbage. And everyone should be ready to push back hard. This is the first test of whether they can work the refs against Obama like they did against Clinton. Don’t let them.

UPDATE: Jack Quinn was in fact a former White House counsel who was representing Rich, and according to the federal prosecutor who worked the Rich case, Quinn probably withheld information from Holder. Holder was in fact asked about it by the White House counsel, and said he didn’t know much about it: “neutral, leaning toward favorable” but assumed that it was being worked by the regular DOJ pardon attorney. The best description of all the events is here. At its most sinister interpretation, Holder made a mistake. At its most reasonable, Holder should have followed up and didn’t realize that it wasn’t going through regular channels.

To suggest anything darker is right-wing agitprop; no concessions need to be made here. We should simply say this: “anyone who supported the commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence is in no position to criticize Eric Holder.”

By the way: who was another one of Rich’s attorneys? I. Lewis Libby.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.