United States Senator
January 15, 2009
STATEMENT OF SENATOR BENJAMIN L. CARDIN (D-MD)
EXECUTIVE NOMINATION OF ERIC H. HOLDER, JR.
UNITED STATES SENATE OF THE JUDICIARY
JANUARY 15, 2009
I am looking forward today to the start of the confirmation hearing for Eric Holder to be the 82nd Attorney General of the United States. I am especially anxious to hear his detailed plan for restoring trust and confidence in a Department of Justice (DOJ) that recently has strayed far from its role as a non-partisan protector of the rule of law and the civil rights of all Americans.
Today we reach the final steps in what has been a two-month-long process for me and other members of the Judiciary Committee. During this time, we all have reviewed a tremendous amount of material on Mr. Holder's professional record, work experience, and even previous testimony before Congress and this committee. After meeting one-on-one with Mr. Holder recently, I believe that he is an experienced and dedicated public servant, Without question, he is the very best candidate to serve the president and lead the DOJ at this critical time. Eric Holder has an impressive, lifelong record of public service spanning more than a quarter of a century, and broad experience within the Department of Justice and the Judiciary. He has established a long record of independence and sound judgment. Throughout the public and private sector, he is known for being fair and tough and for combating public corruption by both parties.
One of the issues Mr. Holder and I discussed in our private meeting, which bears repeating, is his unequivocal commitment that as Attorney General he will serve the American people and not just the White House. This is extremely important considering our nation has recently witnessed an Attorney General who lacked independent judgment in criminal investigations, personnel decisions, and the protection of constitutional liberties. The political firings of U.S. attorneys severely damaged the credibility of the Department of Justice. Mr. Holder assured me that such partisan entanglements would not be tolerated by him or President Obama. I hope and expect he will reiterate that position during our hearing today.
I am confident that Eric Holder, based on his experience and the firm support he has from President-elect Obama, will be able to restore confidence in the Department of Justice. He has a record of using independent judgment throughout his tenure. His first assignment at the Department of Justice was a politically unpopular position: he went to the newly-created public integrity section, created after the abuses of the Nixon Administration in Watergate. That section is responsible for prosecution corrupt by elected and appointed government officials at all levels of local, state, and federal government.
As the U.S. Attorney in Washington, DC, Mr. Holder held his ground and did his job independent of political implications or potential impact on the most senior of political individuals. His office indicted former Ways and Means Chairman Congressman Dan Rostenkowski at the same time the Clinton Administration was working with the Committee to enact important legislation; as Deputy Attorney General, he advised Attorney General Janet Reno to expand the scope of Kenneth Starr's investigation, ultimately leading to President Clinton's impeachment; He also recommended a special counsel be appointed to investigate Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
In each and every position held by Mr. Holder, he has excelled. He has treated parties fairly and impartially. He has managed 300 lawyers on a broad range of civil and criminal issues at the Department of Justice. He has served as Deputy Attorney General where he had tremendous authority and oversight power and completed his tasks exceptionally well. He has also served as Acting Attorney General after President Clinton left office, until President Bush's nominee, John Ashcroft, was confirmed. It should be noted that during the last three positions held, Mr. Holder was confirmed unanimously by the Senate.
It is precisely because of Mr. Holder's strong experience and independent judgment that law enforcement organizations, civil rights organizations and past U.S. attorneys support his nomination. The Fraternal Order of Police reported that "our members reported that they found Judge Holder and U.S. Attorney Holder and able and aggressive prosecutor." Additionally, in a January 7, 2009 letter from several former high-level Department of Justice officials in Republican Administrations, including William Barr, Joseph diGenova, Stuart Gerson, Victoria Toensing, and George Terwilliger, they wrote that they were "pleased to be able to write in support of Eric Holder, a man who stands with the most qualified who have been privileged to be nominated to be Attorney General of the United States. President-Elect Obama's nomination of Eric as the historic appointment of our first African-American Attorney General should be hailed as a milestone. He is an extraordinary lawyer and an even better person."
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights reported that "Mr. Holder's various experiences as a trial attorney, judge, prosecutor, and lawyer in private practice make him uniquely qualified to run the Department of Justice. It would be difficult to find a candidate more experience in the Department, or better suited to lead it. His background will render him ready to lead the Department from day one. His even-mindedness and sound judgment will ensure that justice is dispensed fairly and equitably. His professional accomplishments and ability to put partisan politics aside make him above reproach. His commitment to the rule of law makes him the ideal candidate for the nation's top prosecutor."
During our conversations, Mr. Holder and I have discussed the disturbing developments in the Civil Rights Division, which has been abysmal in its performance during the current administration. I look forward to his comments on this topic during today's hearing. I will continue to urge the future Attorney General to vigorously enforce our civil rights laws to protect all Americans from unlawful discrimination. Ensuring strong enforcement of civil rights laws and restoring funding to the Civil Rights Division will be among my top priorities in the new Congress and I expect it to be one of his top priorities too. Mr. Holder and I also discussed the urgent need to close the justice gap and provide civil legal assistance to Americans who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
One other issue that must be discussed at today's hearing is torture. I have the privilege of serving as the incoming Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and as a U.S. delegate to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Unfortunately, in this position I have found myself trying to defend the United States against international criticism, instead of working with nations on how to effectively handle terrorism. Over the last eight years, the leadership of the United States on human rights issues has been severely compromised. This has hampered our ability to positively affect human rights progress around the world. During the testimony of Attorney General Mukasey, I was disturbed that he could not bring himself to say that waterboarding is torture. Torture is illegal under the laws of the United States and the treaties it has ratified. I would expect Mr. Holder to have no such problems.
The Attorney General, as the nation's chief law enforcement office, must be able to effectively and independently enforce the laws of the United States, which includes giving candid advice to the President on what torture is and what techniques are forbidden by law. The Attorney General must prosecute those who violate our laws against torture. I want the Attorney General and the President to tell the world that the United States will not permit the use of torture. I am hopeful that Mr. Holder will draw a bright line in opposition to the use of torture by the United States.
During the past eight years, the American people have seen a Department of Justice led by an Attorney General who lacked independent judgment in criminal investigations, personnel decisions and the protection of constitutional liberties. These actions along with the politicization of U.S. attorneys and the blatant disregard of federal wiretapping laws severely damaged the credibility of the Department of Justice. Eric Holder is the change we need. He will bring independent judgment, integrity and restore the rule of law at the Department of Justice. For these reason and the many listed above, I support the nomination of Eric Holder to be our next Attorney General of the United States.