Nothing will start a morning off with a good laugh more than an op-ed from Eric Holder touting his record of fighting public corruption. The former Attorney General, who earned a contempt citation from Congress and who participated in one of the most corrupt presidential pardons in US history, took time out from his retirement to wag his finger at James Comey because the FBI director kept Congress informed. Why, Holder writes, that goes against everything I did as AG!
That may actually be one good argument in favor of Comey:
I began my career in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section 40 years ago, investigating cases of official corruption. In the years since, I have seen America’s justice system firsthand from nearly every angle — as a prosecutor, judge, attorney in private practice, and attorney general of the United States. I understand the gravity of the work our Justice Department performs every day to defend the security of our nation, protect the American people, uphold the rule of law and be fair.
That is why I am deeply concerned about FBI Director James B. Comey’s decision to write a vague letter to Congress about emails potentially connected to a matter of public, and political, interest. That decision was incorrect. It violated long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition. And it ran counter to guidance that I put in place four years ago laying out the proper way to conduct investigations during an election season. That guidance, which reinforced established policy, is still in effect and applies to the entire Justice Department — including the FBI.
Let’s take a moment to recall the career of the man who issued this scolding. Holder most famously stonewalled Congress over the ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious program, which ran guns into Mexico in an attempt to make political hay over allegedly widespread “straw man” purchases of firearms in the US. Instead, the ATF thoroughly botched the operation and dumped thousands of guns into the hands of the drug cartels south of the border; the weapons were later traced to hundreds of murders, including those of two Border Patrol agents. When Congress demanded records and communications from the ATF and the Department of Justice, Holder refused to comply, offering a specious claim of “executive privilege” that only applies to the President. Congress approved a contempt citation that the DoJ refused to enforce, and a later court rejected Holder’s claims of executive privilege.
But Holder cites his earlier work on “public integrity,” too. What did that look like? Well, Holder’s approach to public integrity was to promote pardons for tax fugitives whose friends and family kicked in a lot of dough to the Clintons. Slate’s Justin Peters recalled the case of Marc Rich after his demise, the multibillionaire who got off scot-free thanks to Bill Clinton’s last-minute pardon while on the run for tax evasion:
Eric Holder was the key man. As deputy AG, Holder was in charge of advising the president on the merits of various petitions for pardon. Jack Quinn, a lawyer for Rich, approached Holder about clemency for his client. Quinn was a confidant of Al Gore, then a candidate for president; Holder had ambitions of being named attorney general in a Gore administration. A report from the House Committee on Government Reform on the Rich debacle later concluded that Holder must have decided that cooperating in the Rich matter could pay dividends later on.
Rich was an active fugitive, a man who had used his money to evade the law, and presidents do not generally pardon people like that. What’s more, the Justice Department opposed the pardon—or would’ve, if it had known about it. But Holder and Quinn did an end-around, bringing the pardon to Clinton directly and avoiding any chance that Justice colleagues might give negative input. As the House Government Reform Committee report later put it, “Holder failed to inform the prosecutors under him that the Rich pardon was under consideration, despite the fact that he was aware of the pardon effort for almost two months before it was granted.” …
Since then, Bill Clinton hasn’t stopped apologizing for the pardons of Marc Rich and Pincus Green. “It was terrible politics. It wasn’t worth the damage to my reputation,” he told Newsweek in 2002—and, indeed, speculation was rampant that Rich (and his ex-wife) had bought the pardon by, in part, donating $450,000 to Clinton’s presidential library. Clinton denied that the donations had anything to do with the pardon, instead claiming that he took Holder’s advice on the matter. Holder, for his part, has distanced himself from the pardons as well. As the House Government Reform Committee report put it, he claimed that his support for the pardon “was the result of poor judgment, initially not recognizing the seriousness of the Rich case, and then, by the time that he recognized that the pardon was being considered, being distracted by other matters.”
The excuses are weak. In the words of the committee report, “it is difficult to believe that Holder’s judgment would be so monumentally poor that he could not understand how he was being manipulated by Jack Quinn.”
Before the Washington Post offered its pages to Holder for this scolding on law-enforcement ethics, perhaps they should have consulted their own Richard Cohen. Not exactly a conservative activist, Cohen argued vehemently that Holder’s participation in the Rich pardon should have disqualified him for the AG position:
Holder was not just an integral part of the pardon process, he provided the White House with cover by offering his go-ahead recommendation. No alarm seemed to sound for him. Not only had strings been pulled, but it was rare to pardon a fugitive — someone who had avoided possible conviction by avoiding the inconvenience of a trial. The U.S. attorney’s office in New York — which, Holder had told the White House, would oppose any pardon — was kept ignorant of what was going on. Afterward, it was furious. …
But the pardon cannot be excepted. It suggests that Holder, whatever his other qualifications, could not say no to power. The Rich pardon request had power written all over it — the patronage of important Democratic fundraisers, for instance. Holder also said he was “really struck” by the backing of Rich by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the possibility of “foreign policy benefits that would be reaped by granting the pardon.” This is an odd standard for American justice, but more than that, what was Holder thinking? That U.S.-Israeli relations would suffer? Holder does not sound naive. He sounds disingenuous.
And he sounds just as disingenuous here, too. Perhaps Holder feels that he has the moral standing to argue that Congress should be kept in the dark about executive-branch operations, especially when they have a potentially large impact on the body politic; Holder himself certainly exemplified that in Operation Fast and Furious. Or perhaps Holder’s convinced that the Department of Justice should direct all its efforts to get potential felons off the hook, especially in cases where it benefits the Clintons, and Holder has definitely made that part of his life’s work. But Eric Holder lecturing James Comey for not following the examples he set at the DoJ qualifies as farce, and would get gales of laughter had the political parties been swapped.
An argument might be made that shows Comey misstepped, but this isn’t it — and Eric Holder is near the bottom of any list of former officials with the moral authority for public lectures on clean government.
PS: The Marc Rich pardon continues to pay dividends for the Clintons, too. They did big business with former Rich partner Gilbert Chagoury, even while the FBI looked into his connections to terror groups. We can thank Holder for that, too — a dividend of his 2000 efforts for “public integrity” that paid off for the Clintons over and over again.
David Sirota offers another reason to doubt Holder’s moral standing on questions of public integrity:
Comey may or may not be screwing up. But Eric Holder is an unconvincing voice on how law enforcement should act https://t.co/13bgGHv902
— David Sirota (@davidsirota) October 31, 2016
I’d say my arguments are more directly on point, but YMMV.