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Attorney general: Holder’s pardon problem

Is Eric Holder too tarnished by his role in the pardon of Marc Rich to become attorney general?

So much for Barack Obama’s promise to bring “real change” to Washington, said John Fund in The Wall Street Journal. In nominating Eric Holder to be his attorney general, Obama has reached back for a badly tarnished figure from the Clinton administration. As Clinton’s deputy attorney general, Holder reviewed—and signed off on—the then-president’s sleazy pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, who had fled to Switzerland rather than face charges of tax evasion and racketeering connected with illegal oil trades with Iran. Rich’s pardon was greased by his lawyer, former Clinton White House Counsel Jack Quinn, and by a $450,000 donation from Rich’s ex-wife to Clinton’s presidential library. When the pardon request landed on his desk, Holder sent it straight to the White House, saying he was “neutral, leaning towards favorable” on it. “These four words have stalked him since,” said Richard Cohen in The Washington Post, because they suggest Holder “could not say no to power.” As Alberto Gonzales has proved, that’s not a good trait in an attorney general.

You’ve got the Rich story all wrong, said Seth Lipsky in The New York Times, and therefore are giving Holder a bum rap. The financial scheme that landed Rich in trouble in 1983 was an attempt to move his oil profits beyond the reach of the IRS—“the kind of transfer pricing dispute” that belonged in civil court. Indeed, in 1989, the feds ended the use of criminal racketeering charges in similar cases. And don’t discount the foreign-policy agenda behind the pardon, which was issued during sensitive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Rich had strong support in Israel, and President Clinton was using carrots as well as sticks to induce concessions from both sides. Rich’s case falls well within the president’s pardon power.

It certainly fits within the “filthy, venal sleaze” that is typical of Washington, said Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com. The key to the whole sordid affair, according to several New York Times stories, is a 1998 corporate dinner at which Holder sat next to a public relations executive who represented Rich. When the executive asked how Rich should pursue a pardon, Holder pointed out Jack Quinn, who was conveniently across the room. After Rich followed Holder’s insider advice and hired Quinn, “everything magically happened for him.” In his campaign, Obama promised to “delouse” Washington. But how can he change the culture if he surrounds himself with the same corrupt establishment that has “ruined everything it’s touched”?

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