Holder reportedly Obama's choice for attorney general

Eric H. Holder Jr. would be the first African-American nominated to head the Justice Department. Eric H. Holder Jr. would be the first African-American nominated to head the Justice Department. (Michael Smith/File/Getty Images)
By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post / November 19, 2008
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WASHINGTON - Eric H. Holder Jr., a former Justice Department official who was President-elect Barack Obama's campaign cochairman, is the leading candidate to serve as the next US attorney general, according to Democratic sources familiar with the choice.

Holder, 57, was offered the job late last week and accepted it on condition that he receive at least moderate support from Republican lawmakers and that he complete the vetting process, conditions set forth by Obama's transition team, the sources said. Intermediaries began to reach out to Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, and the vetting pace accelerated yesterday.

Sources close to the process said Holder was a "near certainty" to become the first African-American nominated to head the Justice Department, which plays a leading role in enforcing civil rights laws. Officials in the Obama transition office said no final decision has been reached.

Selection of Holder would appear to close the door on other potential candidates, including Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, who also served in the Clinton Justice Department. He has also been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee, but has said he plans to seek reelection.

The nation's next top law enforcement officer will inherit significant challenges, including a workforce demoralized by allegations of political interference in the Bush years, the vexing issue of how to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and whether to open criminal investigations of administration officials who approved harsh interrogation tactics and warrantless wiretapping programs.

As a former judge and top federal prosecutor in Washington DC, Holder has extensive experience with the criminal justice system. He is widely known within the city's legal community and for his work on behalf of troubled juveniles. In recent years, he defended corporations as a partner at the Covington & Burling law firm, and he took an active role in the campaign after meeting Obama at a dinner party.

Over the course of his career, Holder has won praise from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, though his selection is likely to revive questions about his inability to prevent a last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, who won relief from President Clinton during his final day in office in 2001.

In congressional testimony, Holder acknowledged that he had made a mistake by not spending more time on the pardon request and by making a quick judgment of "neutral leaning towards favorable."

At the time he was serving as acting attorney general, dealing with inauguration security, death penalty cases, and other matters. Holder told Republicans on the House government reform committee that efforts to make him and the Justice Department "the fall guys in this matter are rather transparent and simply not consistent with the facts."

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that the pardon issue is "a factor . . . that will be on center stage." He said he will need to examine Holder's background in greater depth, given the importance of the Justice Department. Another Republican Senate source said that Holder's background is "not a deal breaker" and that the initial reaction to his possible nomination was "neutral."

Michael Madigan, a Republican lawyer who has served in several high-profile positions on Capitol Hill but who supported Obama's bid for the presidency, said that "the whole Marc Rich thing is a bad rap and it won't go anywhere" if GOP senators press it at confirmation hearings.

Holder did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

If nominated and confirmed, Holder would join several other members of the Clinton administration who have signed on to the Obama team, including White House counsel Greg Craig, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President-elect Joe Biden. As attorney general, Holder would be in charge of a department that has overseen enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, two of the landmark pieces of legislation.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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