President-elect Barack Obama is quickly shaping his White House staff and policy - considering former Sen. Max Cleland and Eric H. Holder Jr. for top administration posts and promising governors and world leaders he would pursue an aggressive global-warming plan because “denial is no longer an acceptable response.”
The Democratic president-elect has offered the attorney general’s post to Mr. Holder, who served as No. 2 in the Justice Department in the Clinton administration.
A source familiar with transition planning said Mr. Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee, is under consideration for either secretary of Veterans Affairs or secretary of the Army in an Obama administration, and liberal grass-roots support is building for his selection.
Mr. Cleland, 66, is a hero among many on the left for his Democratic activism since losing his U.S. Senate seat in 2002.
In 2002, the one-term Georgia Democrat was defeated by Republican Saxby Chambliss, who ran an ad reviled by liberals because it used images of Mr. Cleland, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden while claiming the Democrat was weak on homeland security issues.
Reached on his cell phone Tuesday morning, the normally talkative Mr. Cleland would not comment and referred the call to a retired aide, Lynn Kimmerly, who said he has not been contacted by the Obama transition team, adding, “It’s all speculation.”
The Obama team has strictly warned those under consideration not to speak to the press under any circumstances.
The transition team declined to comment on Mr. Cleland and also would not speak to reports about Mr. Holder, 57, who helped Mr. Obama select Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. as his vice president and is a close adviser. Obama aides have been floating Mr. Holder’s name on Capitol Hill to gauge support among Republicans for his candidacy.
Three top Republicans said they had not been contacted by Team Obama, including Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who said it was “too soon” to judge whether he’d vote for him.
“I’d have to take a much closer look at his record and talk to him and think about it,” he said, adding the Marc Rich pardon at the end of the Clinton administration “would be a factor to consider.”
If selected and then confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Holder would become the nation’s first black attorney general. Now a lawyer with Covington and Burling in Washington, Mr. Holder did not return calls for comment.
Mr. Holder surfaced in 2000 in the middle of a controversial pardon by President Clinton of Mr. Rich, a fugitive billionaire financier. It was one of 140 granted by Mr. Clinton less than two hours before he left the White House for the last time as president.
He was accused by critics of cutting the Justice Department out of the pardon process and, according to a congressional report, of working with former White House Counsel Jack Quinn, then Mr. Rich’s attorney, to ensure that Justice officials - particularly federal prosecutors in New York who handled the Rich case - “did not have the opportunity to express an opinion on the Rich pardon before it was granted.”
The report said Mr. Holder, who served on Mr. Obama’s vice-presidential selection committee, failed to notify prosecutors under him that the Rich pardon was under consideration, and he failed to offer “any credible justification” for his support of the pardon.
But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said in a statement that Mr. Holder would make an “outstanding” nominee.