Previously I've suggested that criticisms of Eric Holder's involvement in the Marc Rich pardon were insignificant, but I was significantly mistaken. The New York Times reports today that Holder was deeply involved in the pardon process, to the point of recommending to Rich's advocates that they retain the lawyer who Holder now says "played" him. Except it seems that Holder played himself, because it was Holder who originally recommended to Rich ally Gershon Kekst at a "corporate dinner" in 1998 that they retain former White House counsel Jack Quinn to make the case for a pardon.

When Mr. Kekst learned that his dinner companion was the deputy attorney general, he proceeded to bring up the case of an unnamed acquaintance who had been “improperly indicted by an overzealous prosecutor,” according to the Congressional inquiry.

A person in that situation, Mr. Holder advised, should “hire a lawyer who knows the process, he comes to me, we work it out.” Mr. Kekst wanted to know if Mr. Holder could suggest a lawyer. Mr. Holder pointed to a former White House counsel sitting nearby. “There’s Jack Quinn,” he said. “He’s a perfect example.”

What follows is a sordid tale of how the powerful escape prosecution for their crimes, something that speaks poorly of Holder's ability to "serve the American people" even above the interests of the White House as Obama has promised. Rich employed a high powered lawyer with ties to the Clinton Administration, international figures who advocated for his "philanthropic work," and a vast fortune to avoid seeing the inside of a courtroom. A 2001 Congressional inquiry cleared Holder of any legal wrongdoing, although it determined Holder had "significant impact" on the pardon decision. Holder himself says he assumed the pardon would be rejected.

In Holder's defense, his lawyer claims he was unaware that Quinn had not been going through normal pardon channels. But this represents at best negligence, and at worst incompetence on Holder's part. And the hypocrisy of Holder suggesting Rich deserved a pardon, while supporting draconian drug penalties should not be lost.

--A. Serwer

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