The first black man elected U.S. president is poised to name Washington lawyer Eric Holder as the nation's first black attorney general – a historic appointment but one with some potential political problems over a 2001 pardon.
A source close to the selection process said Wednesday that President-elect Obama has informally offered the post to Holder, who has accepted. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement has been made and because the process of vetting the nomination is still going on.
Holder, 57, met Obama only four years ago, but the affable Bronx-born son of a Barbados immigrant quickly won a seat in the Democrat's inner circle. If he becomes the next chief U.S. law enforcement officer, Holder will try to win back the public's confidence in the Justice Department – an agency whose fiercely independent image was tarnished during the Bush administration.
“Internally, there is a morale problem the likes of which I have never seen before,” Holder said in an interview late last year. “Externally, there is a crisis of confidence that the nation has with regard to the department.”
Holder's nomination is expected to be formally announced as soon as this week.
Holder helped lead the team that selected Sen. Joe Biden as Obama's running mate. Throughout his career as a judge, a prosecutor and a defense attorney for the prestigious law firm Covington & Burling, Holder's independence rarely has been questioned. But one of his final acts as President Clinton's deputy attorney general in 2001 could come back to haunt him as he seeks Senate confirmation for the Justice Department's top job.
On the last day of Clinton's term, Holder told the White House he was “neutral, leaning toward favorable” regarding a presidential pardon for Marc Rich, a wealthy commodities dealer who had spent years running from tax charges. Rich's ex-wife, Denise, was a prominent Democratic Party donor.
It turned out to be a bad call. The pardon provoked howls of protests and a congressional investigation over whether it was politically motivated. Holder later publicly apologized for what he called a snap decision and said he would have advised against it had he paid more attention to the case.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, a conservative Republican from Alabama: “I like him and I would hope that nothing comes up that would jeopardize his nomination if he were nominated. But he'll have to answer questions and his record will speak for itself.”
With Democrats in control of the Senate, however, Holder's confirmation would be virtually assured.
Holder “would make an outstanding nominee, and should have the support of senators from both sides of the aisle if President-elect Obama were to choose him for this critical position,” said Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.