Originally the Marc Rich pardon saga appeared to be the main barrier to rubber stamp approval for Eric Holder’s nomination as Attorney General. But the GOP is now looking at his lengthy client list for potential conflicts of interest. Reports the New York Times:
Chiquita was facing the prospect of federal charges for paying protection money to Colombian terrorists to safeguard its banana crops, and the company needed help. It turned to Eric H. Holder Jr., an elite Washington lawyer well versed in the ways of the Justice Department.
“We were in an extraordinarily difficult position,” James E. Thompson, the general counsel for Chiquita, recalled in an interview last week. As a former prosecutor, Mr. Holder “carries a level of credibility with him, and that’s a valuable commodity,” he said.
Mr. Holder, now President-elect Barack Obama‘s pick for attorney general, made his name publicly during a quarter-century in government service, first as a corruption prosecutor, then as a judge, and finally as the second-ranking official in the Clinton Justice Department. But it is as a power lawyer in Washington over the last eight years that Mr. Holder, 57, has made his wealth, as well as a reputation as a legal fixer for clients in crisis.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is to begin confirmation hearings on Mr. Holder on Thursday, and if he is confirmed he will take over at the Justice Department with perhaps the most extensive private practice of any attorney general in modern times. Colleagues and admirers see his impressive range of work as a sign of a lawyer who has seen the law from all sides.
But some Republicans plan to press Mr. Holder about what they view as the potential conflicts of interest posed by his client list and how he would go about deciding whether to bow out of issues that come before him involving past clients, staff members said. Others question how his corporate ties would affect his work at the Justice Department.
“We’ve had eight years of an administration that turned a blind eye to corporate criminals,” said Terry Collingsworth, a Washington lawyer who is suing Chiquita over the Colombian protection money and is facing Mr. Holder in the case. “We need someone with his level of experience and cachet to clean up the Justice Department. Yet I do have a concern and I sure hope that he doesn’t carry over his corporate defense practice into his approach to the job and how he handles these types of cases.”
When the National Football League was facing a legal and public-relations disaster in 2007 over a dogfighting scandal involving the Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, it turned to Mr. Holder to help navigate the maelstrom and represent the league. The pharmaceutical giant Merck tapped him as its lawyer in a Medicaid overbilling case that ended in a $671 million civil settlement. And Rod R. Blagojevich, the now-impeached governor of Illinois, picked him, albeit briefly, to investigate for the state a controversy over a casino development and its possible ties to organized crime.
Already, Mr. Holder’s brief association with Mr. Blagojevich has drawn scrutiny from Republicans, who are waging a more spirited campaign against Mr. Holder’s nomination than many had anticipated. Until now, most of the scrutiny has focused on controversies during the nominee’s time as deputy attorney general at the end of the Clinton administration, particularly his role in the pardon of the fugitive financier Marc Rich.
While nomination opponents still face long odds, they are likely to force Holder to answer some potentially embarrassing questions. With confirmation hearings set to begin Thursday, the process could put another blemish on President-elect Barack Obama’s incipient administration.