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Contentions

Hold Up

Republicans have delayed the vote on Eric Holder’s confirmation as attorney general, ostensibly to investigate his perhaps unduly candid comments on waterboarding being torture. You will recall that despite great political pressure, former Attorney General Mukasey declined issuing such a definitive statement so as to avoid subjecting U.S. officials to potential prosecution.

But there is reason to look into other matters in the interim. Former prosecutor Andy McCarthy thinks Holder lied twice to Congress about his familiarity with Marc Rich, the recipient of the controversial pardon from Bill Clinton. Back in 2001 Holder said he had only “passing familiarity” with Rich when testifying before the Congressional Committee investigating the pardon. And again last week he claimed that he had essentially been ignorant about any specifics when he had weighed in on the pardon (“neutral leaning favorable”) in the waning days of the Clinton administration. But that’s apparently not true:

When Quinn first came to him in 1999, he knew exactly who Marc Rich was. For back in 1995, when Holder was the Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, he had sued a company precisely because it was substantially controlled by Rich—a fact the company concealed in order to obtain lucrative government contracts.

To be clear, years before the pardon scandal convinced him it was in his interest to make like he barely knew Rich’s name, Holder had bragged to the media about how his office was cracking down on Rich, an international fugitive who had duped the government out of loads of cash. Contrary to his congressional testimony that he’d never heard of Rich before 1999, Holder had unquestionably been aware of Rich’s name and history four years earlier; in fact, it was solely because of Rich that Holder extracted a $1.2 million settlement in a federal civil action.

.    .    .

The civil complaint filed by Holder’s office exudes familiarity with Rich. It recounts that the financier and his partners operated Switzerland-based commodity trading concerns, led by Marc Rich & Company AG (MRAG). MRAG did business in New York City through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Marc Rich & Company International (MRI). Eventually, the name of MRI was changed to Clarendon Ltd. In 1981, the complaint adds, the Justice Department began investigating MRAG and Clarendon, among other Rich companies, for tax evasion. Finally, in June 1983, Rich and his partner Pincus Green left the U.S. for Switzerland because they were “facing indictment.” Thus, the complaint states, Rich and Green were “considered fugitives by the United States government.”

As a matter of fact, Holder was apparently aware not only of the charges against Rich but also the fugitive’s brazen obstruction of justice, a detail that has gotten little recent attention. As the complaint states: “In 1982, subpoenas for the production of documents were served on [MRAG and MRI] in New York, NY. MRAG failed to produce documents in accordance with its subpoena and consequently paid $21 million in contempt fines between 1983 and 1984.” That $21 million was a consequence of a $50,000-per-day assessment imposed by a judge when Rich refused to surrender various documents demanded by a federal grand jury. Rich had begun paying the fines only after prosecutors, acting on a tip, stopped a plane en route to Europe—where Rich was evading arrest—just as it was about to take off from Kennedy airport in New York. On board were two steamer trunks loaded with documents the subpoenas had sought.

At the very least Holder should be called back for another round of questioning to explain precisely why he claimed to be ignorant of Rich’s past misdeeds. And while they are at it, the Senators might engage in a more focused line of questioning asking what he meant by his comments that he took no “affirmative” action to help Rich get his pardon. Did he not converse and email with Rich’s attorney, provide counsel, and give his “neutral leaning favorable” recommendation?

If Holder was not candid on two occasions with Congress he simply can’t be confirmed. If nothing else, he hasn’t mastered the key lesson for any prosecutor to function effectively in Washington: the cover-up is always worse than the crime.

Oh, and let’s not overlook the wonderful contribution of Sen. Pat Leahy who has obstructed every Republican effort to subpoena relevant witnesses and gather more evidence. On Day Two of the post-racial presidency Leahy crudely plays the race card. It is times like this that make you miss Vice President Cheney.



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