WASHINGTON, D.C. — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar voted today in support of Eric Holder Jr., President Obama’s controversial pick for attorney general. The Judiciary Committee approved his nomination this morning, despite questions among some Republicans this month over his role in a series of last-minute Clinton administration clemency decisions, including a case involving drug dealing in Minneapolis.
Holder, who won easy Judiciary Committee confirmation on a 17-to-2 vote, would become the first African-American to serve as U.S. attorney general. The full Senate is expected to vote by the end of the week.
“I am not a big fan of pardons… [But] I don’t think you will find a prosecutor, judge or cop who wouldn’t admit that they have made mistakes,” said Klobuchar, a Democrat who served as the attorney for Hennepin County before becoming Senator in 2007.
Holder has admitted to making mistakes while he was deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, specifically in the pardoning of fugitive financier Marc Rich. At his nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee this month, Holder also acknowledged that he recommended clemency for members of a Puerto Rican nationalist group that was labeled as a terrorist organization in the United States against the objections of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and his own Justice Department pardon attorney.
Klobuchar said that she did not agree with a number of Clinton’s pardons, including the sentence commutation of Carlos Vignali, a drug dealer convicted in 1994 for his role in a narcotics operation that delivered more than 800 pounds of cocaine from Los Angeles to Minneapolis.
In that case, Holder failed to sign a recommendation to deny the commutation, arguably giving it less weight.
But Klobuchar said that Holder was very “forthcoming” in his hearing and needed to be evaluated on his entire career, not just his role in the Clinton-era clemencies.
“It is very clear to me that he [Holder] is a good choice for this job,” said Klobuchar, who last week became the first Minnesotan in nearly 75 years to join the Judiciary panel. “He has experience, is incredibly smart … and is a straight shooter.”
Klobuchar has already sought out his advice on appointing Minnesota’s next U.S. attorney.
The 58-year-old corporate lawyer and former Superior Court judge has won overwhelming support from a number of influential Washington heavyweights, including former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, who opposed both the clemency of the Puerto Rican nationalists and the Rich pardon. Even diva and Democratic firebrand Barbra Streisand has issued a plea to “help rebuke partisan attacks on Eric Holder.”
But perhaps most telling of Holder’s open road ahead is the support he won Tuesday from one of his toughest critics — Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and led the efforts to grill Holder over his record.
“Mr. Holder comes with an excellent resume, excellent educational background, excellent professional qualities,” the former lawyer told reporters Tuesday, adding that he thought Holder was “entitled to the benefit of the doubt in the context of the excellent record that he has.”
Klobuchar and Specter said that they felt the questions over the pardons and the hearing process, in general, had served their purpose.
“I think this will make him a better attorney general,” Klobuchar said.
Specter said: “These hearings are important markers. They are important for the individual who is being questioned and they are important for people who watch the hearings, so that one day someone who may be in a lesser position in government, or may not be in government at all, or may be in school will think twice about how he or she conducts himself or herself one day with the prospect of being before a confirmation hearing. I think the hearings will have an impact into the future on Mr. Holder.”
Cynthia Dizikes covers Congress. She can be reached at cdizikes [at] minnpost [dot] com.