The political wrangling surrounding the nomination of Eric H. Holder Jr. for attorney general appeared to end Tuesday with his most vociferous Republican critic pledging to back President Obama’s choice to lead the Justice Department.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said he will support Mr. Holder, 58, when his nomination comes to a vote Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which virtually ensures it will be approved by that committee.
“I think that Mr. Holder is entitled to the benefit of the doubt in the context of the excellent record he has,” said Mr. Specter, who is the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Holder is all but certain to win confirmation from the Democratic-controlled Senate. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, would say only that the Senate would move as quickly as possible to vote on the nomination should it clear the Judiciary Committee.
“I am glad that Senator Specter has resolved his concerns and will support Eric Holder’s nomination to be the next attorney general,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the committee. “Tomorrow, the committee will move forward to report this historic nomination to the Senate, and I hope the Senate will debate and vote on Mr. Holder’s nomination without further delay.”
Mr. Specter said he doubted Mr. Holder would see the same Republican resistance that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner saw during his confirmation vote. Mr. Geithner faced resistance after revelations he had failed to pay some of his taxes. Mr. Specter said the difference is that Republican Party concerns about Mr. Holder related to his judgment, not his integrity.
The nomination of Mr. Holder, who stands to become the first black attorney general, never seemed in serious doubt. But Republicans on the Judiciary Committee had vowed that Mr. Holder’s nomination would not be “smooth sailing.”
They made good on that promise by using Judiciary Committee rules to delay for a week the vote on Mr. Holder’s nomination.
Republicans on the committee expressed concern about Mr. Holder’s role in the controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich by President Clinton; Mr. Holder was a top Justice Department official at the time. Republican Party lawmakers also criticized his involvement in clemency given to members of a Puerto Rico nationalist organization that the FBI considered a terror group, as well as his part in the decision by Justice not to investigate allegations of campaign-finance violations by then-Vice President Al Gore.
And after nearly eight hours of testimony last week, Republicans said they needed more information about whether Mr. Holder would seek to prosecute soldiers and intelligence officials who carried out so-called enhanced-interrogation techniques that some consider torture.
Mr. Specter said he met privately with Mr. Holder last week and received a “satisfactory answer” about that issue.
According to Mr. Specter, Mr. Holder said soldiers and intelligence officials engaging in interrogation techniques that were authorized by legal opinions from the Justice Department would have a strong defense against prosecution. But Mr. Holder also said he couldn’t make any definitive decision without knowing all the facts of a particular case.
Mr. Holder made similar statements during his confirmation hearing when he said such legal opinions would be a “huge factor” in making decisions about potential prosecutions.
The confirmation of Mr. Holder would allow the Judiciary Committee to begin considering the dozens of other nominees for key jobs at the Justice Department. They include David Kris for assistant attorney general for national security, Tony West for assistant attorney general for the civil division, and Lanny Breuer for assistant attorney general for the criminal division.
Among Mr. Holder’s first jobs, should he win confirmation, will be to come up with a plan to deal with the 245 detainees who are in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. President Obama last week signed an executive order calling for the prison to be closed within the next year.
Mr. Holder will consider having the detainees’ cases heard in civilian courts, military courts or even in some form of the military commissions set up during the Bush administration.