car·riage re·turn

n. the lever or mechanism on a typewriter that would cause the cylinder on which the paper was held (the carriage) to return to the left margin of the page

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Filling the New Cabinet,Part III:Attorney General

President-elect Obama has asked Eric Holder,former Deputy Attorney General (1997-2001),to head up the Justice Department in his upcoming administration. From 20 January to 02 February 2001 Mr. Holder served as Acting Attorney General. The formal vetting process is pending.

Mr. Holder has been President-elect Obama’s senior legal adviser since late 2007 and was co-chair of the VP selection committee. Prior to his nomination as Deputy Attorney General in 1997,Mr. Holder had spent four years as the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. He was confirmed unanimously by the Senate following President Clinton’s appointment. Additionally,Mr. Holder has fairly strong bipartisan appeal. He was nominated to a judgeship on the District of Columbia Superior Court by President Reagan and served on the bench for five years. In his confirmation hearing,Mr. Holder indicated that he would enforce all laws,even those with which he personally disagreed:

[Senator Orrin] Hatch questioned Mr. Holder about his views on the death penalty in general and in particular about a case in which Mr. Holder initially did not seek the death penalty for someone who was accused of killing a District of Columbia police officer.

”I am not a proponent of the death penalty,but I will enforce the law as this Congress gives it to us,”Mr. Holder said.

Mr. Holder said that at first he had not thought the crime met the legal conditions for the death penalty. But he said he changed his mind after a conversation with Attorney General Janet Reno. ”I hope that the committee would feel very assured that even with those statutes that have death penalty provisions will be fully enforced by me,”he said.

- The New York Times,14 June 1997

This alone would be a refreshing switch from the current administration’s policy of disregarding or not enforcing laws (and issuing signing statements indicating this intent).

The one major blemish on Mr. Holder’s record is his role in the pardoning of Marc Rich,an international commodities trader who fled the United States for Switzerland ahead of an indictment on 65 counts of tax evasion (to the tune of an alleged $100 million in 1983 dollars) and illegal trading of oil with an embargoed Iran. Rich’s ex-wife Denise was a major Democratic Party and Clinton Presidential Library donor. Mr. Holder,on the last day of the Clinton administration,was presented with a pardon for Rich and asked his opinion. Deputy AG Holder responded,indicating a “neutral,leaning towards favorable”opinion of the pardon.

When he was appointed deputy attorney general [sic] to Janet Reno,his friends expected he would rise to the top job before Clinton left office. At a minimum,they believed,Holder needed only avoid mishap to become attorney general in the next Democratic administration —and the first African American to occupy the post.

At a critical moment on the last full day of Clinton’s term,however,Holder said he was “neutral,leaning towards favorable”on the Rich case. Clinton cited the opinion among eight factors that persuaded him to grant a pardon,although he publicly regretted that Holder was not given more time to review the case.

Even supporters agree that Holder should have raised serious questions about pardoning Rich,a fabulously wealthy commodities dealer who spent 17 years dodging federal tax and oil trading charges. Holder himself painfully concurs:“If I had focused on this in a way that I could have,should have,the recommendation I would have given him would have been,‘Don’t do this,Mr. President.’”

In political Washington,“neutral,leaning towards favorable”could become his epitaph. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) commented ruefully at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that Holder may be an unintended casualty of the intense lobbying that accompanies the pardon process.

“A lot of well-meaning people get involved and they put on a lot of pressure,”Feinstein said. “And a lot of other well-meaning people get involved in that —I think Mr. Holder is one of them,for example —and something like this can really ruin their entire career.”

- The Washington Post,01 Mar 2001

Certainly this incident is a cause for concern. If Mr. Holder is to be believed,his “neutral”opinion on Rich’s pardon “meant that he knew too little about Rich to make a recommendation on the legal merits. The reference to “leaning towards favorable”meant deferring to the White House if foreign policy interests warranted.”[this from the same WaPo article cited above] Considering his otherwise extremely impressive credentials and given the benefit of the doubt,if Mr. Holder has learned from his mistake in the pardoning of Rich,it seems reasonable to be optimistic about this appointment as in the best interest of the nation,something the Bush administration clearly demonstrated was not a consideration when Alberto Gonzales was nominated.

Interestingly,Mr. Holder spent twelve years in the Public Integrity section at Justice prior to his 1988 nomination by President Reagan,“prosecuting misconduct by state officials,judges,F.B.I. agents and a Federal prosecutor.”Considering the very loose concept of legality employed by the Bush administration,Mr. Holder’s appointment poses some interesting questions regarding the likelihood of Presidential pardons before the end of the current administration. Given his history of prosecuting government officials,Mr. Holder’s appointment seems a shot across the bow of Bush’s many lackeys.

Oh,and one more thing. Marc Rich’s attorney from 1985-2000 was none other than convicted felon and Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney Lewis “Scooter”Libby.

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