12.12.08

New Leadership Needed At Justice Department Without Delay

WASHINGTON--Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today released the following statement urging Democrats and Republicans to work with the incoming administration to promptly confirm Eric Holder, President-elect Obama’s designee to be Attorney General of the United States.

 

Historically, the Attorney General designees of incoming presidents have received confirmation hearings within four weeks of being announced.  On Tuesday, Leahy announced that Holder’s confirmation proceedings would begin on January 8, nearly six weeks after his designation was announced by President-elect Obama.  President Bush’s most recent nominee to serve as Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, received a hearing just 30 days after his nomination was announced. 

 

Having a prompt confirmation hearing for the new Attorney General is in keeping with how we have treated all the men and women nominated to be Attorney General in the thirty-four years I have served in the Senate, in particular at the beginning of a newly-elected President’s term,” Leahy said.  “We must promptly consider and confirm Eric H. Holder Jr., and other nominees of the new President. “

 

Leahy continued, “This is no ordinary time.  Over the last eight years, political manipulation and influence from partisan political operatives in the White House have undercut the Department of Justice in its mission, severely undermined the morale of its career professionals, and shaken public confidence in our Federal justice system.  Never has it been more important to have an experienced hand as Attorney General.  I hope our Republican members will resist the temptation toward partisanship and join with us to consider this appointment fairly and promptly.”

 

Leahy has urged the Senate not to impose a double standard on Holder’s nomination, citing the Committee’s recent history in considering Mukasey nomination.  In 2007, Republican members of the Judiciary Committee urged Leahy to promptly schedule confirmation hearings for Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey with one member stating that “attorney general nominees have been confirmed, on average, in approximately three weeks, with some being confirmed more quickly” (Congressional Record, September 21, 2007).

 

The full text of Leahy’s statement follows.  For background information on Eric Holder and for historical timelines of the Senate’s consideration of Attorney General nominations, click here.

 

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On Consideration of Eric H. Holder, Jr.
To Be Attorney General of the United States

December 12, 2008

The election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and the President-elect’s selection of Eric Holder to be Attorney General of the United States, provide an historic opportunity for the country to move past the partisanship of the past decades, and work together to solve the Nation’s problems, protect against serious threats, and meet some of the greatest challenges of our time.  We all know these men.  They have long and distinguished records of service and accomplishments.  They can make a real difference if we join with them, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.

The need for new leadership at the Department of Justice is as critical today as it has ever been.  The Judiciary Committee, both Democrats and Republicans, spent a good deal of time and effort during this Congress uncovering scandals at the Department.  Former Attorney General Gonzales, Karl Rove, Mr. Rove’s White House deputies, and virtually the entire leadership at the Department resigned in the wake of congressional investigation.  Since then, the Inspector General at the Department has confirmed many of our findings and fears, and there are still more reports to come.  An ongoing criminal investigation is being conducted by a specially appointed prosecutor.  The crisis at the Department of Justice is not resolved, but ongoing. 

I want to continue the work we began last year when I scheduled prompt hearings and the Senate proceeded to confirm Michael Mukasey, Mark Filip and Kevin O’Connor to serve as Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General and Associate Attorney General after the Rove-Gonzales resignations, even though we were on the eve of the election of a new President.  We cannot now delay restoring the Justice Department and the confidence the American people have in our justice system.  We must promptly consider and confirm Eric H. Holder Jr., and other nominees of the new President. 

I was encouraged by the initial reaction in mid-November when Mr. Holder’s name was reported as the likely nominee, and when he was designated by the President-elect on December 1.  Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledged his qualifications and praised the choice.  I appreciate the willingness of Larry Thompson, who was confirmed early in 2001 as President Bush’s first Deputy Attorney General; Louis Freeh, the former Director of the FBI; and Fran Townsend, President Bush’s former Homeland Security advisor, to speak out in support of Mr. Holder’s designation. 

As early as November 19, the Ranking Republican Member of the Judiciary Committee said that he would not hold up the matter, but “would be prepared to move ahead very promptly with hearings.”  I appreciated and shared his desire to proceed “as fast as we can move” and his commitment that he “wouldn’t hold it up.”  He said that he hoped Mr. Holder would “re-professionalize” the Justice Department.  I hope so, too. 

I agree with Senator Specter that we need to strengthen the Justice Department.  He and I coauthored an article in the Politico before the election.  In a sentence Senator Specter quoted recently on the Senate floor, we wrote:  “The Attorney General must be someone who deeply appreciates and respects the work and commitment of the thousands of men and women who work in the branches and divisions of the Justice Department, day in and day out, without regard to politics or ideology, doing their best to enforce the law and promote justice.”  I have every confidence that Eric Holder is such a person, and I said so in this chamber on November 20.  Indeed, in his brief remarks on the morning he was designated, Mr. Holder expressed just such appreciation.

I know that the professionals at the Department of Justice reacted with delight when he was named because they know him well.  They know him from his 12 years at the Public Integrity Section, from his time as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, from his tenure on the bench, and from his years as the Deputy Attorney General, the second-highest ranking official of the Department.  His prompt confirmation will do a great deal to restore morale throughout the Justice Department.

I have called Mr. Holder a prosecutor’s prosecutor.  He participated in a number of prosecutions and appeals involving such defendants as the State Treasurer of Florida, a former Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, a local judge in Philadelphia, an Assistant United States Attorney in New York City, an FBI agent, a “capo” in an organized crime family, and a powerful Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  

After he served for a dozen years as a prosecutor, President Reagan nominated Mr. Holder to be a judge, and he served with distinction on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  He left the bench to become the first African American U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, heading the largest U.S. Attorney’s office in the country.    

Four years later, Mr. Holder was nominated to the important post of Deputy Attorney General.  I worked with Senator Hatch, who was then Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to report his nomination favorably to the Senate.  I was disturbed that an anonymous Republican hold delayed consideration of his nomination for three weeks, but when the Senate finally voted, the vote was unanimous.  All 100 Senators voted to confirm Eric H. Holder Jr. to be the Deputy Attorney General of the United States.  He became the first African American in the history of the Department to achieve that high position.

Eric Holder has prosecuted high-level public officials and organized crime, developed comprehensive programs to combat domestic violence, child abuse, and violent crime, and revitalized programs to assist crime victims.  He helped guide the Department’s efforts on the criminal prosecution of corporations, health care fraud, computer crimes, software piracy, and helped develop the community prosecution model.  He has served at nearly every level of the Department of Justice he would lead.

He is a public servant who will have broad support within the law enforcement community.  He has already received the support of the 7,000 member National District Attorneys Association (NDAA).  It was when I was the Vice President of that Association and Arlen Specter was the District Attorney in Philadelphia that the Ranking Member and I first met.  The NDAA indicates that it feels a special relationship with Mr. Holder because he was a street crime prosecutor. 

Having a prompt confirmation hearing for the new Attorney General is in keeping with how we have treated all the men and women nominated to be Attorney General in the thirty-four years I have served in the Senate, in particular at the beginning of a newly-elected President’s term.  That is how the Senate acted on President Carter’s appointment of Attorney General Griffin Bell.  That is how we acted on President Reagan’s appointment of Attorney General William French Smith. When I chaired the Judiciary Committee as President Bush was preparing to take office, I began the hearing on his selection for Attorney General just 25 days after his designation.   Likewise, last year I rejected the efforts by some on my side of the aisle to delay hearings on Michael Mukasey and proceeded on that nomination in 30 days.  I did not curb the rights of Committee members to pose questions to then-nominee Mukasey during his confirmation process; I do not intend to do so with Eric Holder.   

I want to be as fair to President-Elect Obama and to Mr. Holder as we have been to others. I have noticed the hearing for the next Attorney General to begin 39 days after he was officially designated and 52 days after we all began reviewing his record following press reports on November 18.  

In my statement to the Senate on November 20, I commended Senators Hatch, Sessions, Coburn, and Grassley for their nonpartisanship when they praised his selection.  Senator Hatch spoke of his support for Mr. Holder, his experience and reputation. Senator Sessions, a former prosecutor, U.S. Attorney, and State Attorney General who is well aware of the problems at the Justice Department, said he was disposed to support him.  Senator Coburn called it “a good choice.”  In addition, Senator Grassley has acknowledged Mr. Holder’s impeccable credentials while reserving judgment.  

But of course since then, Karl Rove has appeared on the Today Show and signaled that Republicans ought to go after Mr. Holder.  Right-wing talk radio took up the drum beat.   

I think the responsibilities of the Attorney General of the United States are too important to have that appointment delayed by partisan bickering, by some tit-for-tat drawn out process.  This is a public servant we have known and worked with for more than 20 years, and the Senate has previously confirmed him three times to important positions.  His record of public service, his integrity, his experience and the commitment to the rule of law that he will bring to the office of the Attorney General of the United States deserve better.  He should not be made a pawn in some partisan political game.

I began the week meeting with Mr. Holder.  He did not defend the Rich pardon.  That is hardly a new matter.  It was the subject of House hearings and a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing chaired by Senator Specter in 2001, almost eight years ago.  That is not a reason to delay his confirmation hearing.  In fact, the confirmation hearing will give those who have doubts and need reassurance the chance to ask Mr. Holder about that matter and hear about it directly from him.

I thought the President-Elect had it right when he said recently that Mr. Holder has acknowledged that the Rich pardon was a mistake.  President-Elect Obama agrees. I agree. President-Elect Obama said: “But when you look at the totality of his experience, there is no doubt that he is going to be an outstanding Attorney General.”  That is the essential point.

Like the President-Elect, I want the American people to have confidence that laws are being evenly applied to everyone and that we are working with local and state as well as federal officials constantly to improve our criminal justice system.  Public confidence and faith in that system has been shaken during the last several years, and Mr. Holder can help restore it. 

We need the new Attorney General to be a person of integrity and experience, who can inspire the thousands of hardworking prosecutors, agents and employees who do their best everyday to enforce the law and promote justice without regard to partisan politics. We need an Attorney General, as Attorney General Robert H. Jackson said 68 years ago about the Federal prosecutor, “who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.” 

That is the kind of man Eric Holder is, the kind of prosecutor Eric Holder always was and the kind of Attorney General he would be.  The next Attorney General will understand our moral and legal obligation to protect the fundamental rights of all Americans and to respect the human rights of all people.  Eric Holder will ensure that the Department of Justice is working to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law, not working to circumvent them. 

I was struck by the contrast between what President Bush and Alberto Gonzales said at that announcement and how President-elect Obama and Mr. Holder spoke at his.  This is part of the change we need, the change the American people voted for and hunger for.  President-elect Obama said: “Let me be clear. The Attorney General serves the American people.  And I have every expectation that Eric will protect our people, uphold the public trust, and adhere to our Constitution.”  The next President understands the role of the Attorney General of the United States and that it is not as counselor to the President.  I have no doubt that Mr. Holder understands the independence required of the Attorney General and that his experience and lessons he has learned will serve him and the American people well.  

No one should have to remind us how decimated the Department of Justice was during recent years, or how important it is that it be restored.  I think it was Senator Specter who called it dysfunctional and said that morale was in disarray.  We understand that it is all too important that the Department have its senior leadership in place without delay.  We must act on this nomination; the Attorney General is the top law enforcement officer in the country and a key member of the national security team. 

When President Bush nominated Michael Mukasey last year, Senator Kyl said: “Since the Carter administration, attorney general nominees have been confirmed, on average, in approximately three weeks, with some being confirmed even more quickly.  The Senate should immediately move to consider Judge Mukasey’s nomination and ensure he is confirmed before Congress recesses for Columbus Day.”  I held that hearing within 30 days.  We should not change the standards now that a Democrat is making the selection.

During my time in the Senate, serving during 8 presidential terms, there has been an average of 29 days between announcement of an Attorney General designation and the start of hearings, and 37 days on average from the announcement of the nominee to the Committee vote.  The Holder hearing was set for 39 days after announcement, with the hope that he can be considered by the Committee within 50 days.  That does not seem unreasonable.  I do appreciate that we and our staffs will be working over the holidays, but we have been called upon many times to do so during the last several tumultuous years. 

This is not the occasion to convert our consideration of an executive branch nomination into the kind of searching scrutiny we rightly provide for lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court, which is apparently what the Republican side is intent upon doing.  

This is no ordinary time.  Over the last eight years, political manipulation and influence from partisan political operatives in the White House have undercut the Department of Justice in its mission, severely undermined the morale of its career professionals, and shaken public confidence in our Federal justice system.  During those eight years, we experienced the attacks of September 11 and have retooled the Justice Department and the FBI to work closely with the intelligence community in our efforts to prevent terrorism.  Never has it been more important to have an experienced hand as Attorney General. 

I hope our Republican members will resist the temptation toward partisanship and join with us to consider this appointment fairly and promptly.

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