Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called today for delaying the confirmation hearing of Eric Holder Jr. to be attorney general until late January at the earliest.
Speaking on the Senate floor, the Pennsylvanian said that he and other Republicans plan to question Holder in detail on many subjects related to his tenure as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton. Specter mentioned the pardon of fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich, the investigation into Clinton’s fundraising for the 1996 election, and Holder’s views on attorney-client privilege under the McNulty memo.
He said senators and their staff need time to prepare.
“It seems to me not realistic or fair to begin hearings before the week of January 26th,” Specter said. He added, “We’re looking at a serious matter, we have to do it right, and we need time.”
His comments came a day after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, set Jan. 8 as the first day of Holder’s hearing. Leahy had said that he was working closely with Specter on the date.
Specter, who met with Holder for an hour Monday, said that John Ashcroft’s hearing to become attorney general lasted four days in 2001, even though Ashcroft was well known to senators as a former colleague. “That didn’t stop a full, detailed inquiry. It wasn’t done in a rush,” Specter said.
Committee staff has 86 boxes of archived documents related to Holder, he said, and more could be on the way from the Clinton presidential library and other sources.
“With respect to Attorney General-designate Holder, there is no doubt that he comes to this nomination with an outstanding record for the most part—not without question, but for the most part,” Specter said.
Specter also drew a line from the Rich pardon to allegations that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, before his resignation last year, was not sufficiently independent from President George W. Bush. Specter cited Gonzales’ support for presidential signing statements and what Specter says was Gonzales' lack of cooperation with Congress on developing surveillance policies.
“It is imperative that we be sure that the attorney general of the United States does not bend his views to accommodate his appointer, that the attorney general of the United States does not bend his views in any way that is political,” he said.