Published in The New York Post on June 5, 2008.
On his first day as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama made his first clear, serious mistake: He named Eric Holder as one of three people charged with vice-presidential vetting.
As deputy attorney general, Holder was the key person who made the pardon of Marc Rich possible in the final hours of the Clinton presidency. Now, Obama will be stuck in the Marc Rich mess.
If ever there was a person who did not deserve a presidential pardon, it’s Marc Rich, the fugitive billionaire who renounced his US citizenship and moved to Switzerland to avoid prosecution for racketeering, wire fraud, 51 counts of tax fraud, evading $48 million in taxes, and engaging in illegal trades with Iran in violation of the US embargo following the 1979-80 hostage crisis.
Seventeen years later, Rich wanted a pardon, and he retained Jack Quinn, former counsel to the president, to lobby his old boss.
It was Holder who had originally recommended Quinn to one of Rich’s advisers, although he claims that he did not know the identity of the client.
And he gave substantive advice to Quinn along the way. According to Quinn’s notes that were produced to Congress, Holder told Quinn to take the pardon application “straight to the White House” because “the timing is good.”
And once the pardon was granted, Holder sent his congratulations to Quinn.
In 2002, a congressional committee reported that Holder was a “willing participant in the plan to keep the Justice Department from knowing about and opposing” the Rich pardon.
It is one thing to reach back to Obama’s pastor to raise doubts about his values. But it is quite another to scrutinize the record of his first appointee.
It couldn’t be a bigger mistake.