- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

The former prosecutor whom President-elect Barack Obama wants to run the Justice Department bypassed the agency’s career lawyers during one of the most controversial final decisions made by President Clinton in January 2001 the pardon of billionaire fugitive financier Marc Rich, congressional records show.

Eric H. Holder Jr., then the deputy attorney general, worked with former White House Counsel Jack Quinn to ensure that department 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 Republican-led House Government Reform Committee concluded in a 467-page report in 2002.

The committee’s evidence included an e-mail in which Mr. Holder told Mr. Quinn to “go straight” to the White House and that the “timing is good” for Mr. Rich’s request for a pardon. Normally, pardon requests are reviewed by career prosecutors before a recommendation is forwarded to the White House.

Mr. Quinn responded in a typewritten note to Mr. Holder, just 10 days before Mr. Clinton issued the pardon, “Your saying positive things, I’m told, would make this happen. Thanks for your consideration.”

Mr. Holder was not available for comment on Wednesday. But he told lawmakers during the investigation that he thought he had done nothing wrong.

If Mr. Obama forwards Mr. Holder’s name for confirmation as the first black attorney general, the Rich pardon is likely to come up among lawmakers already concerned that Justice Department career lawyers were bypassed or subject to political pressure during the Bush administration.

The House committee, which finished its investigation in 2002, concluded from its interviews and the documents that Mr. Holder helped bypassed the normal procedure for pardons in Mr. Rich’s case. The report was approved by Republicans, led by Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, over the objections of Democrats.

“The evidence amassed by the committee indicates that Holder advised Quinn to file the Rich pardon petition with the White House and leave the Justice Department out of the process,” the report said.

Mr. Holder, the committee also concluded, failed to notify prosecutors under him that the pardon was under consideration and failed to offer “any credible justification” for it.

Mr. Rich, whose ex-wife gave $1.3 million to the Democratic National Committee, was pardoned by Mr. Clinton on his last day in office. At the time, Mr. Rich and his business partner, Pincus Green, were on the list of the Justice Department’s six most wanted international fugitives. The pardon was the last major controversy of the Clinton presidency, in part because it was issued over the objection of many senior aides and bypassed the normal Justice Department pardon vetting process.

Mr. Holder, a former U.S. attorney in the Washington and trial judge who once entertained the idea of running for D.C. mayor, has conditionally been offered the attorney general’s post by Mr. Obama pending a determination of the level of bipartisan support that the former Justice Department official can bring to the confirmation process.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would oversee the confirmation hearings, said he thought Mr. Holder would “make an outstanding nominee” who should have the support “of both Democrats and Republicans” if he is formally nominated.

But the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said Mr. Holder’s actions in the Rich pardon would be “a factor to consider” during the confirmation process. He said he “wouldn’t want to articulate it among the top items” but that it would be “worthwhile to look at.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and Judiciary Committee member, said he hoped “nothing comes up that would jeopardize his nomination if Mr. Holder’s was formally nominated. But he said, “He’ll have to answer questions and his record will speak for itself.”

Mr. Holder had talked with Mr. Quinn on numerous occasions concerning the political viability of a presidential pardon, committee records show. It was Mr. Quinn who arranged for a telephone call with the White House during which Mr. Holder said he was “neutral, leaning towards favorable” on the idea of pardoning Mr. Rich.

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