The nomination of Eric Holder Jr. to be attorney general is headed for a committee vote as soon as Wednesday, after a day and a half of mostly positive interactions with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Holder is widely expected to get a positive vote in the committee and in the full Senate. No Democrats have said that they’ll vote against him, and at least two Republicans—Orrin Hatch of Utah and Mel Martinez of Florida—have said that they plan to vote for him. Martinez, a former Cabinet secretary under President George W. Bush and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, met with Holder today.
“I adhere to the principle that, assuming qualifications, a President gets to choose the members of his Cabinet. Mr. Holder answered a number of questions to my satisfaction,” Martinez, who is not on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “I have also followed his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Eric Holder understands the unique role of the Attorney General and further, I think he’s qualified to serve in that role. Therefore, I intend to support Mr. Holder’s confirmation and urge my colleagues to do the same.”
Holder’s nomination has been among the most contentious of President-elect Barack Obama’s choices, due to his involvement in President Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich and clemency for 16 members of the Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN. But his confirmation hearing Thursday and today produced little new information about his background. Instead, he and the senators focused on policy.
The Judiciary Committee heard this morning from a panel of seven witnesses, including Louis Freeh, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Freeh said that Holder’s reputation as a fair and honest lawyer dates to Holder’s time as a prosecutor with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section.
“The agents who worked with him, particularly when he was a line assistant, have told me time and time again, he was smart, he was honest, he was not afraid. He exercised his office without fear or favor,” Freeh said.
Two Republican witnesses focused on the history of the FALN and the assistance Holder provided in obtaining clemency for some of its members. Joseph Connor, whose father died in a FALN bombing at Fraunces Tavern in New York, said Holder acted irresponsibly in pushing for clemency and didn’t know all the facts of the cases.
“How sad that we have to go through this again. We knew that the clemencies were wrong in 1999,” Connor said. “Yet here we are contemplating the confirmation of the architect of that release as a top law enforcement official for our country.”
Only three senators attended this morning’s session, which lasted about two hours.