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Changing the Subject Isn’t Going To Cut It

Eric Holder’s confirmation hearing is shaping up to be the first partisan clash of 2009. This report explains:

The confirmation hearing for Eric Holder, Obama’s pick for attorney general, promises to be bruising, with Republicans determined to explore Holder’s role in controversial pardons under President Clinton, his views on gun rights, and his involvement in the case of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy returned to his homeland by Clinton’s Justice Department.

“You’re probably only going to have one truly horrendous confirmation; that’s always the case,” said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, who served on the White House staffs of presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. “In this case, it is clearly the attorney general-designate, Eric Holder.”

Front and center will be the Marc Rich pardon. But, if this account is to be believed, Holder is not offering much of a defense, just a change of topic:

An Obama transition official, granted anonymity to address strategy, said that Holder, if challenged on whether in light of the Rich case he can be trusted to display political independence from the president, will cite two high-profile example of him breaking with party leaders.

The first, according to the transition official, was Holder’s prosecution, as US attorney for the District of Columbia, of former US representative Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat and House Ways and Means Committee chairman who served prison time for misusing taxpayer money. The second, the official said, was Holder’s support, while deputy attorney general, of broadening independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigations into Clinton’s activities.

The Ken Starr defense is an odd one, not merely because it is likely to inflame the Left (Oh, he was the one who fanned the flames of the Starr inquiry!), but because it also involves a credibility issue, detailed here.

Aside from that, the more central issue remains: did Holder commit a serious ethical breach in helping guide the Marc Rich pardon through and past the Justice Department? And, did he lie about the extent of his involvement when questioned by Congress in 2001? Whether that is a single “error” or lots of errors all tied up with his desire for promotion in the then anticipated Gore administration will be one of the issues to be explored at the hearing.

But it hardly seems an appropriate defense for an attorney general to say, in essence, “Okay, I folded like a cheap suitcase and lied to cover my tracks, but I stood on principle plenty of other times.” That doesn’t sound like a very persuasive argument, especially when one of the key issues is lying to Congress. That particular offense, we have heard from Democrats again and again, is an unforgivable sin. Certainly, it’s not the behavior one would expect of an attorney general.

I suspect the Holder team will need to go back to the drawing board. Eventually, he will need to explain, if not atone for, his conduct in the Rich pardon. No amount of misdirection will throw Arlen Specter and the other Republicans on the committee off the trail.