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Contentions

Hide the Ball From Specter? Not a Good Idea

One sure way to get Senator Arlen Specter’s dander up is to deny him his procedural rights and to play fast-and-lose with the facts. But Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy seems bent on doing just that. Specter is already concerned about “serious questions” surrounding Attorney General nominee  Eric Holder’s involvement with the Marc Rich and FALN terrorists’ pardons, as well as his appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate Al Gore’s involvement in illegal campaign contributions. The latter hasn’t been much discussed yet but a source involved in the Holder confirmation explains:

From 1997 to 1999, the House Committee on Government Reform and the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs investigated Democrats fund-raising activities in the 1996 election. Both committees found significant evidence of wrongdoing and recommended that Reno appoint an independent counsel.  The House Committee criticized “the failure of the Attorney General to follow the law and appoint an independent counsel .”  FBI Director Louis Freeh and the Attorney General’s hand-picked Chief Prosecutor, Charles La Bella, wrote lengthy memos to the Attorney General advising her that she must appoint an Independent Counsel under the mandatory section of the Independent Counsel Statute. Holder was intimately involved in the decision-making process that resulted in Attorney General Reno rejecting the DOJ and FBI task force’s recommendation to appoint an independent counsel to probe the allegations of fundraising abuses by Vice-President Gore during the 1996 presidential campaign. Reno consulted Holder throughout the investigation.  The Committee should inquire into whether he followed the facts without a political bias toward Gore.

But now Leahy is trying to cut off Specter’s access to documents and rush through the confirmation hearing. We learn from this report:

Specter has run into a Leahy roadblock in his attempts to get some of the background documents on the nomination.  Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has refused to sign off on document requests by Republicans relevant to the hearing from the Department of Justice and the Clinton administration archives at the library in Little Rock.

This is — according to Republican staff sources — enormously frustrating to Specter.  He cannot make document requests unilaterally using the power of the Committee.  Only if Leahy joins in the request will it likely even be answered.  Those staffers said that they cannot recall any instance in which Specter refused a Leahy request when the Republican was chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

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To further complicate matters, reports came to light on Monday evening of a more extensive connection between Holder and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich which Holder did not fully disclose.  Holder claims that he did not perform any “substantive” work for the disgraced Illinois governor in a gaming board licensing matter that was clouded by charges of corruption.  Yet in response to a request for documentation from Republican Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Illinois governor’s office has produced an April 22, 2004 letter from Holder himself on his firm’s letterhead which states that Blagojevich hired him for oversight on the entire investigation.  Reports show Holder’s firm was paid $300,000 in legal fees.  This latest development may be the first crack in the wall of secrecy erected by Senate Democrats around Holder’s confirmation process.

Leahy is badly mistaken if he thinks hiding the ball is the way to get past Specter. The famously prickly former prosecutor is a stickler for process and, like his Republican colleagues, isn’t going to like the notion that the nominee, assisted by ever-helpful Senate aides, is giving him less than complete information. This is especially troublesome, given Holder’s lack of candor with a prior congressional committee over his involvement with the Marc Rich pardon, references to which might emerge in the hearing. The question looms: Is this guy not a straight shooter?

Perhaps all of this is much to do about nothing. But by playing procedural hardball with Specter, Leahy is only fueling suspicions that there may be troublesome items in Holder’s record which may not stand up to intense scrutiny.