Holder's reputation dinged by Marc Rich pardon
Associated Press Writer
Presidential Election 2008
The last time Washington attorney Eric Holder participated in a high-profile vetting, it was for fugitive financier Marc Rich.
The episode in 2001 became the final scandal of the Clinton administration and landed Holder, at the time the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, in the middle of a congressional investigation.
Now Holder, a co-chairman of Barack Obama's campaign, is one of three big names who will lead the search for a potential running mate for the presumed Democratic presidential nominee.
The others are Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, and longtime Washington insider Jim Johnson.
In the Clinton pardon scandal, Holder was deputy attorney general when his duties intersected with the efforts of Rich's lawyer, Jack Quinn, who had been White House counsel earlier in the Clinton administration.
The entire matter was handled in an unorthodox manner - on a straight line from Rich's lawyer to the White House, with a consulting role for Holder.
Later, Holder said he told White House counsel Beth Nolan the day before the pardon was issued that he was "neutral, leaning toward favorable" in regard to the pardon. He said he and Nolan "never had a prolonged conversation about the matter."
To make matters worse, Holder had asked Quinn for his help in becoming attorney general in the event then-Vice President Al Gore won the 2000 election.
Rich did not even qualify for a pardon under Justice Department guidelines, which say no pardons can be requested until five years after completion of a sentence in a criminal case.
Prosecutors on the Rich case testified that no one consulted with them before a recommendation went to the president on the Rich pardon.
Rich has been based in Switzerland since 1983, just before he was indicted in the United States, accused of tax evasion on more than $100 million in income, fraud and participating in illegal oil deals with Iran.
Members of Congress pointed out that Rich's ex-wife, Denise, visited the White House more than a dozen times during Clinton's presidency and contributed an estimated $450,000 to the president's library foundation, $1.1 million to the Democratic Party and at least $109,000 to Hillary Rodham Clinton's bid for the Senate.
"Everything about it seems sleazy," Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said at the time.
Rep. Henry Waxman, then senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and now its chairman, called the Rich pardon an end run around the judicial process.
In the end, Holder told Congress he would have tried to stop the Rich pardon if he had known the full details of the fugitive financier's case. Holder said he did not pay much attention to Rich's case amid a flood of pardon requests that came to the Justice Department in Clinton's last days in office.
Quinn and Holder denied that anything untoward or illegal had been done by them or anyone else that they knew of, and the passage of time has restored whatever damage to Holder's reputation occurred at the time.
Seven and a half years after the most controversial incident of his legal career, Holder enjoys a stellar reputation among his Washington colleagues.
One of them, Bob Bennett, said Wednesday that "Eric Holder has proven to be one of our country's outstanding lawyers and a man of unimpeachable integrity and nothing about the Marc Rich affair would undercut my views on that."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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