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Holder and the Rich Pardon

Richard Cohen and Ezra Klein are very disturbed by Attorney General-designate Eric Holder’s role in Bill Clinton’s 11th hour pardoning of Marc Rich.  Kevin Drum finds Holder’s role “disturbing” but not disqualifying and hopes he’s learned his lesson.

I’m by no means a Clinton fan but the idea that Holder should be held accountable for Clinton’s corrupt use of his plenary power to pardon whoever the hell he feels like strikes me as more than a little odd.   Even if Holder had opposed the pardon, Clinton could have done it, anyway.

Cohen, Klein, and Drum all think the Justice Department should be independent of the president.  Barack Obama said as much in introducing Holder yesterday.  But the fact of the matter is that the Attorney General and senior DOJ staff are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president.   Their only higher duty is to the Constitution and the law.  Holder telling Clinton, who had every legal right to pardon Rich, that he was “Neutral, leaning towards favorable” on the pardon from a legal standpoint doesn’t cross any obvious lines.

If you think– as I do — the Rich pardon was morally suspect, cast your blame at Holder’s former boss.

Corrected intro to more accurately portray Drum’s position.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Even if Holder had opposed the pardon, Clinton could have done it, anyway.

    Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that, James. During the waning days of the Clinton Administration the requests for pardon didn’t go through the Office of Pardon Attorney as is usually the case. They went straight to Eric Holder. The Marc Rich pardon went to President Clinton under Holder’s signature.

    To me that looks like either a case of nonfeasance or malfeasance on Holder’s part. Neither is a particularly good recommendation.

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  2. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    I’m guessing — and correct me here if I’m wrong — but the pardons of Weinberger, Abrams, Clarridge, Fiers, George, and McFarlane by Bush the Elder probably didn’t come up through the Office of Pardon Attorney, either. Facts being what they are, if you’re a well-connected political figure you can pull strings. The normal channel is for people who want a pardon for smuggling slot machines down the Mississippi River back in ’66.

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  3. Steve Verdon says:

    I’m guessing — and correct me here if I’m wrong — but the pardons of Weinberger, Abrams, Clarridge, Fiers, George, and McFarlane by Bush the Elder probably didn’t come up through the Office of Pardon Attorney, either.

    Shorter Jeffery W. Baker:

    But mooooooommmmm, they did it tooooo!!!!

    *gets petulant look on his face*

    Facts being what they are, if you’re a well-connected political figure you can pull strings. The normal channel is for people who want a pardon for smuggling slot machines down the Mississippi River back in ’66.

    In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    I note that Obama’s cabinet is basically a variant on Clinton’s cabinet. Clinton 2.0 if you will. Change you can believe in!

    Bwahahahahaha

    [Note: This is not to be interpreted as implying McCain would have been better, brought about more change, etc.]

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  4. Bithead says:

    I tend to agree with Schuler, here.
    Blame clinton if you like… I’ll not defend him. But it seems to me a question too, of who encouarged the action. That, clearly, was Holder.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    But it seems to me a question too, of who encouarged the action. That, clearly, was Holder.

    Holder enabled it; no evidence he encouraged it.

    During the waning days of the Clinton Administration the requests for pardon didn’t go through the Office of Pardon Attorney as is usually the case. They went straight to Eric Holder.

    I do think that’s normally the case for 11th hour pardons. Basically, the OPA is there to handle petitions from ordinary criminals whereas the president and his team usually vet political and personal pardons.

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  6. odograph says:

    Clinton went pardon crazy.

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  7. Kevin Drum says:

    Actually, I said that I wasn’t really all the disturbed by Holder’s role. It wasn’t exactly a high point of his career, but by itself it doesn’t strike me as something that should prevent him from serving as AG.

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  8. anjin-san says:

    I note that Obama’s cabinet is basically a variant on Clinton’s cabinet. Clinton 2.0 if you will. Change you can believe in!

    And if Obama had picked a bunch of unknowns, you could whine about him putting rookies in charge of the government in a time of financial crisis, war, terrorist threats and so on.

    The whine is certainly a constant…

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  9. Bithead says:

    Holder enabled it; no evidence he encouraged it.

    I’m not sure we can be quite so generous.
    Mind usually I don’t have much use for Richard Cohen… but check this out.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/01/AR2008120102403.html

    Rich was a commodities trader who amassed both a fortune and some influential friends in the 1970s and ’80s. Along with his partner, Pincus Green, he was indicted in 1983 on 65 counts of tax evasion and related matters. Before he could be prosecuted, however, he fled to Switzerland. There he remained, avoiding extradition and eventually arranging to be represented by Jack Quinn, a Washington lawyer and Clinton’s onetime White House counsel — in other words, a certified power broker. Quinn did an end run around the Justice Department’s pardon office and went straight to Holder and the White House. With a stroke of a pen, justice was not done.

    Holder was not just an integral part of the pardon process, he provided the White House with cover by offering his go-ahead recommendation. No alarm seemed to sound for him. Not only had strings been pulled, but it was rare to pardon a fugitive — someone who had avoided possible conviction by avoiding the inconvenience of a trial. The U.S. attorney’s office in New York — which, Holder had told the White House, would oppose any pardon — was kept ignorant of what was going on. Afterward, it was furious.

    But the pardon cannot be excepted. It suggests that Holder, whatever his other qualifications, could not say no to power. The Rich pardon request had power written all over it — the patronage of important Democratic fundraisers, for instance. Holder also said he was “really struck” by the backing of Rich by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the possibility of “foreign policy benefits that would be reaped by granting the pardon.” This is an odd standard for American justice, but more than that, what was Holder thinking? That U.S.-Israeli relations would suffer? Holder does not sound naive. He sounds disingenuous.

    Holder sounded just as disingenuous when he told a House committee that he did not “reflexively oppose” the pardon of a fugitive because “I had previously supported a successful pardon request for a fugitive, Preston King.” King, a black civil rights activist, chose to be tried for draft evasion in 1961 rather than submit to what he considered racist treatment. After his conviction, he fled to Europe. The two cases are not in the least similar.

    Clearly, Holder saw an opportunity to make points for himself with democrat financial backers. Clearly, with this appointment, those points paid off.

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  10. Bithead says:

    And if Obama had picked a bunch of unknowns, you could whine about him putting rookies in charge of the government in a time of financial crisis, war, terrorist threats and so on.

    Really?
    Well, let’s keep playing that game.
    Postulate that following a Mccain victory at the polls, he proceeded to pile on the Bush appointees.

    What’s your reaction now?

    (Amused stare)

    Yeah, I thought so. Next?

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  11. Dave Schuler says:

    And if Obama had picked a bunch of unknowns, you could whine about him putting rookies in charge of the government in a time of financial crisis, war, terrorist threats and so on.

    Well, yes, anjin-san. When you run as a reform candidate, people actually expect you to reform. It’s a cruel world.

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  12. belloscm says:

    “Even if Holder had opposed the pardon, Clinton could have done it, anyway.”

    “If” Holder had opposed the pardon and, say, resigned on principle, he would now be regarded as a man of true integrity, not the butt-snorkeling shaper and trimmer that he is now.

    Btw, wasn’t an AG just recently hounded from office because of his unprincipled willingness to please his political masters? Would Alberto have kept his job if he had “learned his lessons”?

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  13. anjin-san says:

    Well, yes, anjin-san. When you run as a reform candidate, people actually expect you to reform. It’s a cruel world.

    Well, let’s see what happens when he actually takes office. Expecting reform before that takes place is actually pretty silly.

    If Obama’s intention as an executive has a strong thrust towards reform, I expect his senior staff will act on it, regardless of their resumes, or they will find themselves looking for new jobs.

    If 18 months from now, there is no sign that Obama was ever serious about reform, people will have something to bitch about. Until then they are either bitching because they enjoy it, or because they can’t think of anything interesting to say.

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  14. McGehee says:

    Does his having been involved in Clinton’s Last Day pardons disqualify him? No.

    Does it uphold Obama’s marketing as Change We Can Believe In™? Assuming one actually did believe in it, no.

    As for this…

    Expecting reform before that takes place is actually pretty silly.

    …the argument itself is silly. Right now we are watching as the self-proclaimed reformer creates his reform administration out of, well, a bunch of retreads from a former administration whose claim of ethical superiority turned out to be pure satire.

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  15. Triumph says:

    Anyone who had anything to do with Clinton is a yellow-bellied liberal. This Holder character should be “held”–indefinitely in a Gitmo jail cell.

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  16. Bithead says:

    indefinitely in a Gitmo jail cell.

    No.

    Under it.

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  17. Dodd says:

    It’s not the pardon itself that raises questions for me. It’s the self-dealing. The President can pardon whomever he wishes for whatever reason. But Holder supposedly used the Rich pardon to promote his own interests. If true, that does directly impinge on his fitness for the office of AG.

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  18. James Joyner says:

    Holder supposedly used the Rich pardon to promote his own interests. If true, that does directly impinge on his fitness for the office of AG.

    I agree completely on the last. I haven’t seen anything on the first.

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