One of the prosecutors in the criminal case against commodities trader Marc Rich says that Eric Holder Jr. shouldn’t be disqualified from the job of attorney general because of his involvement in Rich’s pardon.
In a letter released today by the Senate Judiciary Committee, James Comey endorses Holder as President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for the nation’s top law enforcement official. Comey was in charge of the Rich case from 1987 to 1993 when he was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
Comey later served as a U.S. attorney and then deputy attorney general—two positions that Holder has also held—and Comey wrote that his Justice Department service reinforced his opposition to the Rich pardon.
“From that experience, I have come to believe that Mr. Holder’s role in the Rich and [Rich co-worker Pincus] Green pardons was a huge misjudgment, one for which he has, appropriately, paid dearly in reputation,” Comey wrote to Judiciary’s Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).
The letter (pdf) continues:
Yet I hope very much he is confirmed. I know a lot of good people who have made significant mistakes. I think Mr. Holder’s may actually make him a better steward of the Department of Justice because he has learned a hard lesson about protecting the integrity of that great institution from political fixers. I’m not suggesting errors of judgment are qualification for high office, but in this case, where the nominee is a smart, decent, humble man, who knows and loves the Department and has demonstrated his commitment to the rule of law across an entire career, the error should not disqualify him. Eric Holder should be confirmed as Attorney General.
Rich fled the country after he was indicted for tax evasion in 1983. President Bill Clinton pardoned Rich in 2001 shortly before leaving office and after Holder gave the pardon request a "neutral leaning towards favorable" recommendation. Rich's wife had donated to Clinton's presidential library, and Republicans have said they plan to ask Holder about the pardon at his confirmation hearing. The hearing is set for Jan. 15.