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December 29, 2008

Real headaches or just hiccups on nominee Holder's path to AG?

The Boston Globe has this long pieceon coming Senate confirmation issues surrounding President-elect Obama's nominees.  The piece is headlined "Holder's hearing might be rocky: GOP could grill Cabinet nominee," and here is how it starts:

With Barack Obama anxious to take office, the public eager for fresh leadership, and the economy demanding urgent attention, the Senate is likely to defer to the president-elect and swiftly approve his Cabinet nominees, congressional aides and political analysts say.

But there will be one prominent exception: The confirmation hearing for Eric Holder, Obama's pick for attorney general, promises to be bruising, with Republicans determined to explore Holder's role in controversial pardons under President Clinton, his views on gun rights, and his involvement in the case of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy returned to his homeland by Clinton's Justice Department.

"You're probably only going to have one truly horrendous confirmation; that's always the case," said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, who served on the White House staffs of presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. "In this case, it is clearly the attorney general-designate, Eric Holder."

Meanwhile, yesterday the Hartford Courant had this long article full of new information about Eric Holder's role in some controversial commutations granted by President Clinton in 1999 that have always struck me as more troublesome than even the Marc Rich pardon.  This piece is headlined "Clinton-Era Sentence Reductions Could Trip Holder's Confirmation," and here is a section that really caught my eye:

[Q]uestions about Holder's appointment have been building over his role as a former deputy attorney general in a number of controversial Clinton-era legal decisions. High on the list are the dramatic sentence reductions he recommended in 1999 for members of two groups responsible for a years-long terror campaign aimed at Puerto Rican independence....

A total of 16 radical Independentistas, either Macheteros or members of the affiliated Armed Forces of National Liberation, ultimately won sentence reductions or remissions of fines — although none of them had applied personally for clemency.

Together, the groups are linked to 130 bombings, several murders and as many as a dozen robberies. When President Bill Clinton issued the clemency, the FBI said the two groups were the driving force behind the violent wing of the Puerto Rican independence movement and represented one of the nation's foremost domestic terror threats....

Senate staffers said the Puerto Rico clemency is expected to be the subject of considerable questioning. A senior Justice official, while generally supportive of Holder, called the lesser-known Puerto Rico commutations "far more egregious" because they involved terror and appear to have deviated widely from federal regulations and past practices in clemency matters.

Interviews and a review of congressional records show that Holder's recommendation for clemency was at odds with a report by the Office of the Pardon Attorney. The pardon attorney issued a second report to Holder about two years later that took no position on clemency. Critics say the second report violated rules requiring the pardons attorney to recommend either for or against clemency.

Despite all the reasons to expect an interesting show during his confirmation hearings, I still think the smart money has to be on Holder being easily confirmed as the next Attorney General.  But, one can never fully predict how these matter will play out, especially when there is reason to suspect that folks with scores to settle with either the Clintons or the President-elect might view the Holder hearings as the best opportunity to vent.

Some prior posts on the Obama transition, the Holder pick and federal criminal justice issues:

Election season 2008 posts about Clinton commutations to Puerto Rican terrorists:

December 29, 2008 at 08:32 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Score-settling? There is a principled case against Holder. It should be made. Besides, there isn't a single Dem who has any business complaining about any stalling of Obama's nominees.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 30, 2008 10:49:26 AM

Ah, the uncluttered mind of the true believer who mindlessly spouts their party's talking points - well done federalist.

Any "principled" opposition to Holder will come from progressives who actually voted for Obama appalled by the fact that Obama after promising change is thus far delivering a redux of the Clinton administration which as Professor Berman has repeatedly pointed out had an absolutely abyssmal record (from a liberal/progressive perspective) in criminal law.

Posted by: Zack | Dec 30, 2008 1:10:15 PM

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