- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

UPDATED:

Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder acknowledged Thursday that he “made mistakes” in President Clinton’s pardon of billionaire fugitive Marc Rich eight years ago but that he had learned from them and would make a better attorney general because of them.

Mr. Holder, who will be 58 Monday, made the remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is conducting confirmation hearings into his nomination by President-elect Barack Obama to be his attorney general.

Mr. Holder, a former federal prosecutor, was a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration when he approved Mr. Clinton’s pardon of Mr. Rich, who was a fugitive living in Switzerland after his 1983 federal indictment on charges of evading more than $48 million in taxes.

He also was charged with 51 counts of tax fraud and involvement in illegal oil deals with Iran during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.

Mr. Clinton’s pardon of Mr. Rich during the closing hours of his presidency in January 2001 created an uproar that sparked congressional hearings.

“I made mistakes,” Mr. Holder told the committee in reference to the Rich affair. “I made assumptions that that turned out not to be true.”

But, he said, “I’ve learned from that experience. I will be a better attorney general after the Marc Rich experience.”

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Spector, the ranking Republican on the committee, peppered Mr. Holder with questions about the Rich pardon. He applauded the nominee as an “outstanding professional” and said, “It’s hard for me to see how you came to the conclusions you did.”

The thrust of Mr. Spector’s questions appeared to be aimed at whether Mr. Holder could be trusted to be an attorney general who would be independent of presidential politics, saying that the nominee worked for “a president who obviously wanted a pardon.”

In his opening remarks, Mr. Holder seemed aware that the Rich pardon could be a sticking point in his confirmation when he emphasized more than once that he intended to run an independent agency.

“I intend to head an agency that is strong and independent,” he said, later adding, “The Department of Justice first and foremost represents the people, not any president or any one political party.”