Attorney General Nominee Faces Confirmation Fight

Republicans concerned about Holder's involvement in clemencies, pardon of fugitive

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Eric Holder, seen above as he was nominated for attorney general Dec. 1, faces a contentious confirmation hearing Jan. 15, as criticism pours in from Republicans. (Source: Obama transition team)

Democrats are bracing for a contentious confirmation hearing on Jan. 15 when attorney general nominee Eric Holder will take his place in the hot seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Republicans have harshly criticized Holder about his role in former President Bill Clinton’s controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich and will undoubtedly take advantage of the confirmation hearing to grill him on it. They’ll also ask some tough questions about clemency granted to four members of the Armed Forces of Puerto Rican Nationalists, also known as FALN, and what role Holder played in that.

Holder is widely expected to be confirmed, but only after what is sure to be an episode of great political theater. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, set the stage last week when he castigated Holder on Rich, FALN, and other issues. Holder’s “outstanding academic and professional record aside,” he said, “…There is also the issue of character. Sometimes it is more important for the attorney general to have the stature and the courage to say no instead of to say yes.”

Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, who also sits on the committee, says he’s puzzled about why Republicans want to challenge Holder.

“If you look at his record of recommendations and independent actions over expanded investigations that weren’t terribly popular with the Clinton administration, he’s clearly been a person who’s exercised strong judgment and placed public responsibility first,” Cardin says. “I’m surprised that Republicans are targeting his nomination and don’t understand why because they’ve shared [Democrats’] frustrations with the Bush administration’s record at the Department of Justice.”

Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, says that the judiciary committee has a long-held tradition of intense questioning of attorney general and judicial nominees.

“If you look at high-profile confirmation hearings over the past few years, they seem to all happen in the Senate Judiciary Committee, whether the nominees are Republicans or Democrats.”

According to Darling, Holder will also be questioned on his decision-making process on Fourth Amendment rights issues such as the case of Elian Gonzalez, who was allegedly seized at gunpoint from his Miami family’s home in 2000.

“Obviously most pundits expect him to be confirmed, but we don’t know whether he’ll answer these questions directly or hide behind executive privilege on his actions when he was number two at the justice department,” Darling says. “That could be a problem and cause the hearing to go on for a lot longer than expected.”

Most of President-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet nominees will sail through their confirmation hearings easily, but some, such as Treasury secretary nominee Tim Geithner can expect a hard line of questioning.

Members of the Senate Banking Committee, for example, will be seeking specifics on his role in the recent financial

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