Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Eric Holder vs. the Powerful

Eric Holder, Barack Obama's choice to be attorney general, is a veteran of Washington wars in which victors are loath to take prisoners, let alone pity the vanquished. So the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, D.C. Superior Court judge and Clinton-era deputy attorney general knows he's in for a dusting up when he goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings. For that, he can thank the role he played in President Clinton's 2001 pardoning of fugitive financier Marc Rich. It was not Holder's finest hour.

His confirmation as the nation's top lawyer is still expected. But knowing Holder as I do, I suspect he must be smoldering over one particular charge that has been swirling around his nomination: that he is a Washington sycophant who can't say no to power.

If Holder prides himself on anything, it's his integrity and independence. His friends in the legal community share that view of him. I've heard from some of them recently.

They cite his stance on Kenneth Starr's investigation of Bill Clinton. Holder, they say, urged Attorney General Janet Reno to expand Starr's probe to include Monica Lewinsky -- over the objections of powerful Democrats. Holder's advice opened the doors to the impeachment of a Democratic president.

They also say it's hard to stick Holder with a "soft on power" charge after he pushed for a special prosecutor to investigate charges that Clinton's Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt had lied in an Indian casino licensing case. The special prosecutor subsequently cleared Babbitt of any wrongdoing.

And what about U.S. Attorney Holder's 1994 prosecution of the powerful Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski? Holder advocates say that took independence, as did, they say, his prosecution of corrupt government officials when he worked in the Justice Department's public integrity unit. Fresh out of law school, Holder was busy sending corrupt FBI agents, a judge and officials from both parties off to jail.

In my own mind, Eric Holder established himself as a person of principal, an instrument of no one and a leader a willing to speak truth to power in a speech that he delivered 13 years ago on Martin Luther King Day: "Dr. King would be shocked and disheartened by the condition of his people in 1995, and I, for one, would be ashamed to reveal to him what we have let happen to our community."

Holder was referring to crime in the nation's capital and the fact that senior citizens were living under siege, youths were terrorizing adults and children were unsafe in "of all places -- school," he said. "We must realize that crime is generated by a lack of values that has largely gone unaddressed in our nation as a whole and in the black community in particular. Soaring unwed birthrates, absentee fathers and aversion to work, and unwillingness to embrace societal standards and time-honored discipline -- all of these factors have contributed to the problems we must now confront."

The critical point is that Holder -- well before Bill Cosby and Barack Obama -- set the standard for talking about problems in the African American community, without the usual temporizing and finger pointing at "others."

He demonstrated an independence from the "old thinking" prevalent at the time and a willingness to lay responsibility where it belongs, even at the risk of unpopularity.

Can't say no to power? Indeed.

By Colbert King  | December 8, 2008; 1:44 PM ET
Categories:  King  | Tags:  Colbert King  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Political Potpourri
Next: The Worst CEO


So, if he's such a great guy, why was he so instrumental in the Rich pardon? He's got more fingerprints on that than Hercule Poirot could count.

Posted by: Nebreklaw01 | December 8, 2008 10:41 PM | Report abuse

sorry colbert, i can't figure out the bill cosby reference. hasn't bill cosby been of influence in america for like 30, 40 years?

otherwise, a fair defence of holder's ability to tackle the target.

he had better have an open schedule, for holding accountable the previous administration, where abundant evidence suggests criminal intent and activity.

Posted by: forestbloggod | December 8, 2008 11:48 PM | Report abuse

When the confirmation hearing comes up watch the die hard neo con types try to make a good man's mistake the only thing to be considered.

Overall, the man certainly appears well qualified for the job, especially when compared to Gonzales or even Mukasey.

When one of these idealogues tries to get smarmy watch how an intelligent person can deflate a gas bag.

Posted by: Thatsnuts | December 9, 2008 7:23 AM | Report abuse

Dear President-Elect Obama,
Greetings from the militant and extremist far left.(well, maybe not that far left. OK, so it depends which side of the bed I get up on.)

I always vote Democratic(that could change if you displease me!) I voted for you. I canvassed for you. I even sent you money(a little. ok, not much, sorry.)

When you were being viciously attacked, and the media pundits(others, not this one) kept wondering why you didn't strike back---I believed you knew what you were doing. You did.

I support your cabinet choices. All.of.them. I voted for a leader. So be one. I can't, and don't want to be. Congress? People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. And if what Mr. King has written is accurate, it seems they might want to be particularly cautious about throwing them at Attorney General nominee Eric Holder.

Posted by: martymar123 | December 9, 2008 7:36 AM | Report abuse

Eric Holder has bigger problems than the Rich pardon. Jesse Trentadue has documentary evidence (contemporaneous FBI e-mails) that Holder was involved in the coverup of the torture and murder of his brother, Kenneth Michael Trentadue.

Leaked FBI e-mails tying Holder to a criminal coverup here:

To date, Holder has never answered questions about his involvement.

Posted by: tbetz | December 9, 2008 7:53 AM | Report abuse

Well PARDON me Colbert for thinking anything but positive thoughts about

Posted by: dagsboro1 | December 9, 2008 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Only a writer for the Washington Post could believe that Holder's recommendation to let Starr expand his investigation into the Lewinsky mess is actually a point in his favor. Sheesh.

Posted by: gedwards1 | December 9, 2008 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Eric Holder was nominated November 19. The Trentadue family announced a large reward for new information on Trentadue's death November 22. DOJ memos regarding the Trentadue case were leaked December 4th, 2008.

I have a tin-foil hat, too.

Posted by: martymar123 | December 9, 2008 9:21 AM | Report abuse

1) "Holder's advice opened the doors to the impeachment of a Democratic president."
2) "[Holder] pushed for a special prosecutor to investigate charges that Clinton's Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt had lied in an Indian casino licensing case. The special prosecutor subsequently cleared Babbitt of any wrongdoing."

Are these actions meant to be GOOD RECOMMENDATIONS regarding Eric Holder's judgement and sense of justice?

To drag Monica Lewinsky into a Kangaroo Kourt -- after a Federal Grand Jury refused to uphold any of Ken Starr's charges -- a case that had to do with a decades-old land deal... in Arkansas... where the Clintons actually LOST money???

That Holder wanted a U.S. Cabinet member PROSECUTED, and he was WRONG???


I absolutely don't hold Holder accountable for Marc Rich's pardon; the Constitution doesn't give Holder the power to pardon anyone.

But I'm shocked that this author appears to believe Holder's other actions are POSITIVE attributes.

I fully support Holder's confirmation, but these decisions about Lewinsky and Babbitt show HORRIBLE judgment, in my opinion.

Posted by: freespeak | December 9, 2008 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I personally wanted Fitzgerald as Atty Gen. and see Dubya and his cronies get the legacy that is due them, jail time in the Plame conspiracy. Holder with a few dents is a good choice whom appears to be non-partisan. The fact he sees players, thugs and the gangsta life as irresponsible leads me to believe there will be more crackdowns on absentee fathers by his staff. Obama being the American dream as POTUS, reinforces the responsibility ethic.

Posted by: jameschirico | December 9, 2008 5:51 PM | Report abuse

"(Eric Holder)is in for a dusting up when he goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings. For that, he can thank the role he played in President Clinton's 2001 pardoning of fugitive financier Marc Rich. It was not Holder's finest hour."
I would say that "dusting up" is a vast understatement. The Marc Rich pardon was a travesty of a mockery of a sham as Woody Allen would say. the FALN pardon of terrorists was also sickening. We will see if Obama's honeymoon will include a pass for Holder. I doubt it. But after he gets pounded by the Senate Judiciary Chairman they will confirm him and all will be sunshine and cookies.

Posted by: mharwick | December 9, 2008 8:01 PM | Report abuse

With the Illinois governor in a jam, it puts Holder in a new light for me. I see him as the patsy to let all these Chicago gangsters off the hook!! It would not be in BO's best interest if any of them sing.

Posted by: annnort | December 10, 2008 6:00 AM | Report abuse

Let's try this again.

Excellent summary of the case for confirming Eric Holder as Attorney General. He admits the Rich pardon was a brain dribble. Aside from that single instance, he's been exemplary.

One of the earlier posters inquired about King's reference to Bill Cosby. Yes, Bill Cosby has been a wonderful influence for decades, trying by example, by learning and by humor to persuade the black community that each individual, each family and each community holds destiny in its own hands. Finally, he lost patience and decided to try explicit criticism. On May 17, 2004, at an NAACP celebration that marked the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education, Cosby blew the doors off on the almost comfortable assumption of victimhood held by so many blacks. He said in no uncertain terms that many, even most of the American black community's problems were self-inflicted. Needless to say, this caused some talk. Cosby, of course, wasn't minimizing or ignoring racism. He simply introduced his fellows to the dinosaurs in the room: Black violence is black on black. Black crime is black on black. It wasn't white folk breaking up black families. Black folk were selling each other down the river. He submitted for consideration that the only answer to all these problems was for blacks to take personal responsibility for their own lives and to quit making excuses.

In any case, Eric Holder has been saying these things from a much smaller podium since at least the early 1990s.

Posted by: bubbuh | December 10, 2008 6:35 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the many posters who see this article as a list of why NOT to support Eric Holder. The only people who think the special prosecutors were a good idea are right-wing Clinton-haters who don't mind spend millions of taxpayer money on finding out that a politician had sex with a woman not his wife and lied about it.

Posted by: rosepetals64 | December 10, 2008 7:55 AM | Report abuse

'Holder ... demonstrated an independence from the "old thinking" prevalent at the time and a willingness to lay responsibility where it belongs, even at the risk of unpopularity.'

As for clinging to "old thinking," Holder is a drug warrior. (

Anyone who subscribes to criminalizing plants God put on earth for our use (Genesis 1:29) is either an idiot or a beneficiary of the drug trade. Criminalizing drugs like cannabis, coca or poppies is the only way to make them profitable. It also rewards the wrong people--gangsters, terrorists, and corrupt governmental and police officials. Meanwhile, anyone interested in the cover-up on the effects of drugs like marijuana should check out
-- the title of which is "Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding. Commissioned by President Richard M. Nixon, March, 1972."

Posted by: edwcorey | December 10, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Eric Holder is a person of (spelling) "principle."

Posted by: DavidinToledo | December 10, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse

A resounding defense of Mr. Holder. And yet...

If he could and did say no to power throughout his career then why did he bend his knee to the Clintons and shout yes?

This pardon was not for some unwed teenage mother stealing a loaf of bread to feed her child; or some poor half wit kid from the projects sucked into a life of selling drugs.

Marc Rich was and is a very smart and powerful man; a man who ran and hid from justice for years; a man who did business with some of our nations biggest enemies. And a man who stole from every single American by failing to pay his taxes.

Holder wasn't asked his opinion while he was on his way to lunch, or the men's room, or the gym.

Holder had months to consider this case and deliberate its merits. He shepherded it through the system and somehow failed to ask those in the Justice Department who spent years on the case. He ensured it was cloaked from the eyes of those trying to bring Rich to justice.

I believe he did bend to power. I believe he helped to be helped and his appointment to AG is the pro quo to quid.

Mr. Holder may have demonstrated he can say "no" to power but he has also demonstrated he can eagerly say "yes".

I am certain he will be approved; I hope it is a painful process for him.

Posted by: krankyman | December 10, 2008 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Fitzgerald as AG would be much, much better than Holder.

Posted by: jkarlinsky | December 11, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

King views Holder's support for expanding Ken Starr's investigation far beyond its original scope into a general fishing expedition looking for evidence of any misconduct by the President, and for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate unfounded charges against Bruce Babbitt, as evidence that Holder is not "soft on power." However, it's just as easy to see Holder's decision in each of those instances as a failure of judgment and as capitulating to partisan demands in order to create the impression of being fair, thus protecting his own reputation at the expense of others. Perhaps the best thing about Holder's involvement in the Rich pardon is that it will force him to to everything he can to restore the integrity of the Department of Justice.

Posted by: taikan | December 12, 2008 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Bank of America and Mr. Higgins missing $millions, It can happen to you, my fellow Americans

More info:

Posted by: srmaxhiggins | December 13, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company