HOLDERS SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET
Holder’s intercession on behalf of fugitive Marc Rich is so
inexplicable that he has always viewed ignorance as his best defense.
It’s as though Holder believes that a deputy attorney general looks
better for having remained studiously unaware of critical facts in a
criminal case before throwing his weight around. But that’s Holder’s
story, and he’s sticking to it: even if it turns out not to be true.
Holder is President Obama’s choice to become attorney general. That
means the Rich case is a big problem for him today–just as it was in
2001, when an outraged Congress demanded an explanation of the
controversial affair. President Clinton had pardoned the fugitive
financier on the recommendation of Holder, who was then deputy attorney
general. The only feeble response Holder could muster was that he didn’t
really know much about Rich’s case and that, as Justice’s number two
official, he was simply too busy to learn about it.
Clearly, the nominee has calculated that there’s something worse than
championing a presidential pardon for a guy like Rich, and that’s knowingly championing such a pardon.
Holder were to admit familiarity with Rich’s background at the time of
the pardon, he would be admitting he knew that Rich, once among the
FBI’s “ten most wanted” fugitives, stood accused of racketeering,
defrauding the Treasury out of tens of millions of dollars, and trading
with our nation’s enemies–including Iran, which Rich supplied with
desperately needed funds while Khomeini’s embargoed regime held American
That won’t do. Holder realizes that, in these kinds of cases, the
public expects prosecutions, not pardons. In the 15 years prior to
Holder’s tenure as deputy attorney general, the Justice Department had
chased Rich around the globe, determined to apprehend and convict
him–just as it had convicted his confederates and his corporations. The
public doesn’t expect, and wouldn’t lightly tolerate, a more clement
approach. That is why the Rich pardon brought universal condemnation. It
is also why Holder has determined that claiming ignorance–though
embarrassing–is his only viable strategy.
In 2001, when Holder was summoned before Congress, he testified that
he hadn’t even known who Rich was back in 1999. That’s when the
fugitive’s powerhouse lawyer, former Clinton White House counsel Jack
Quinn, beseeched Holder to lean on federal prosecutors who were not
inclined to negotiate with the agents of a fugitive.
“Mr. Rich’s name was unfamiliar to me,” Holder told the Senate
Judiciary Committee, under oath, on February 14, 2001. Despite this
purported dearth of knowledge, Holder readily acceded to the request
that he “facilitate a meeting” at which Quinn could try to persuade “the
U.S. Attorney’s office to drop the charges.” What’s more, Holder told
the Senate, he had “gained only a passing familiarity with the
underlying facts of the Rich case” when, months afterward, he began
providing invaluable assistance to Quinn’s pursuit of Rich’s pardon.
Holder’s testimony was rambling and often incredible. But he was
consistent on the subject of his own ignorance. Indeed, a House
investigation concluded that Holder’s “sum total of knowledge about Rich
came from a page of talking points provided to him by Jack Quinn in
2000”–talking points that failed to address important aspects of Rich’s
background and conduct.
But Holder’s protestations of ignorance do not stand scrutiny. When
Quinn first came to him in 1999, he knew exactly who Marc Rich was. For
back in 1995, when Holder was the Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney for
the District of Columbia, he had sued a company precisely because it was
substantially controlled by Rich–a fact the company concealed in order
to obtain lucrative government contracts.
1995: MR. RICH’S NAME WAS PRETTY FAMILIAR AFTER ALL
be clear, years before the pardon scandal convinced him it was in his
interest to make like he barely knew Rich’s name, Holder had bragged to
the media about how his office was cracking down on Rich, an
international fugitive who had duped the government out of loads of
cash. Contrary to his congressional testimony that he’d never heard of
Rich before 1999, Holder had unquestionably been aware of Rich’s name
and history four years earlier; in fact, it was solely because of Rich
that Holder extracted a $1.2 million settlement in a federal civil
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