When President-elect Barack Obama nominated Eric Holder for attorney general last week, there was one big blemish on Holder’s otherwise sterling record: his role in the pardon of Marc Rich at the end of the Clinton administration. National Public Radio reports that the Obama transition team might not have anticipated the intense scrutiny the incident would receive. Rich’s ex-wife had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Clintons. When prosecutors charged Rich with millions in fraud and tax evasion, he fled to Switzerland. Former White House counsel Jack Quinn represented him.
At the Justice Department, Holder was in charge of overseeing pardons. Quinn lobbied Holder to get a pardon for Rich, and eventually, Holder told President Clinton that he was neutral, leaning toward favorable on the issue. Holder did not check with his deputies first, nor he did ask for input from the prosecutors who had charged Rich in the first place. The next day – his last day in office – Clinton pardoned Rich. Holder allies paint him as an innocent victim who was manipulated by Quinn.