• Was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia by President Bill Clinton
• Vetted the Clinton administration’s 176 last-minute pardons in January 2001
• Was deeply involved in Clinton’s pardons of Marc Rich and the Puerto Rican FALN terrorists
• Condemned the Guantanamo Bay detention center as an “international embarrassment”
• Was appointed U.S. Attorney General by President Barack Obama
• Strong opponent of gun rights
• Sought to try islamic terrorists in civilian courts rather than in military tribunals
• Filed suit against several states that had passed laws designed to stem the flow of illegal immigration
• Opposes efforts to purge voter rolls of ineligible names, or to enact voter-ID laws
Eric Himpton Holder, Jr. was born on January 21, 1951 in the Bronx, New York and was raised in Elmhurst, Queens. His father (1905-1970) hailed from Barbados and worked as a real estate broker; his mother (Miriam) was the American-born daughter of immigrants from Saint Philip, Barbados.
After graduating from Stuyvesant H.S. in 1969, Holder enrolled at Columbia University, where he became involved in what he would later describe as the “rise of black consciousness” protests on campus. As a freshman, he took a leadership role with the Student Afro-American Society (SAAS), which demanded that the school’s abandoned ROTC (Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps) office be renamed the “Malcolm X Lounge” — “in honor of a man who recognized the importance of territory as a basis for nationhood.” In 1970, while still a freshman, Holder participated in a five-day occupation of that office; according to some accounts, the occupiers were armed. In addition, Holder and SAAS also occupied the office of Henry Coleman, Dean of Freshmen, until their demands were met.
Holder graduated from Columbia University in 1973 with a degree in American history. Three years later he earned a J.D. from Columbia Law School. During one of the summers between his law-school academic years, Holder worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Holder was employed by the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section from 1976 to 1988. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan appointed him as a Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Five years later, President Bill Clinton appointed Holder as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. In 1997 Clinton nominated Holder to replace Jamie Gorelick, the retiring Deputy Attorney General in Janet Reno’s Justice Department; Holder was confirmed by the Senate in a unanimous vote.
As Deputy Attorney General, Holder, as The Washington Post explains, “was the gatekeeper for presidential pardons.” Indeed, Holder was a key figure entrusted with the task of vetting the Clinton administration’s 176 last-minute pardons in January 2001. The beneficiaries of those pardons included such notables as former Weather Underground members Susan Rosenberg (who was involved in the deadly 1981 armed robbery of a Brink’s armored car) and Linda Evans (who had used false identification to buy firearms, had harbored a fugitive, and was in possession of 740 pounds of dynamite at the time of her arrest in 1985).
HOLDER AND THE PARDON OF MARC RICH
Holder played a particularly significant role in what was perhaps the most infamous of Clinton’s 176 pardons—the one granted to the billionaire financier Marc Rich, a fugitive oil broker who had illegally purchased oil from Iran during the American trade embargo, and had then proceeded to hide more than $100 million in profits by using dummy transactions in off-shore corporations. Rich later renounced his American citizenship and fled to Switzerland to avoid prosecution for 51 counts of racketeering, wire fraud, tax fraud, tax evasion, and the illegal oil transactions with Iran.
Over the years, Rich’s ex-wife Denise had funneled at least $1.5 million to Clinton interests. Some $1.2 million went to the Democratic National Committee, $75,000 went to Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, and $450,000 helped finance the Bill Clinton Library in Arkansas. Mrs. Rich also had given expensive gifts to the Clintons and, according to some rumors, had a very close relationship with the President.
According to The New York Times:
“Mr. Holder had more than a half-dozen contacts with Mr. Rich’s lawyers over 15 months, including phone calls, e-mail and memorandums that helped keep alive Mr. Rich’s prospects for a legal resolution to his case. And Mr. Holder’s final opinion on the matter—a recommendation to the White House on the eve of the pardon that he was ‘neutral, leaning toward’ favorable—helped ensure that Mr. Clinton signed the pardon despite objections from other senior staff members.”
The Times details the sequence of events:
“Holder’s role in the Rich issue actually began … [a]t a corporate dinner in November 1998, [where] Mr. Holder was seated at a table with a public-relations executive named Gershon Kekst, who had been trying to help Mr. Rich resolve his legal troubles. 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.’ … 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.’ Months later, Mr. Rich’s advisers settled on Mr. Quinn to lead the legal efforts …”
Between October 1999 and January 2001, Holder and Quinn discussed the Rich case on at least six separate occasions. Says The New York Times:
“In February 2000, Mr. Quinn sent Mr. Holder a memorandum entitled ‘Why D.O.J. [Department of Justice] Should Review the Marc Rich Indictment.’ About a month later, Mr. Holder spoke with Mr. Quinn again and told him that ‘we’re all sympathetic’ and that the legal ‘equities’ in the issue were ‘on your side.’ … By the fall of 2000, efforts to re-open the criminal case were dead, and Mr. Rich’s lawyers had moved on to the idea of a pardon. Again, Mr. Quinn turned to Mr. Holder. On Nov. 21, 2000, at the close of a meeting on a separate topic, Mr. Quinn took Mr. Holder aside, told him he was planning on filing a lengthy pardon petition with the White House and asked whether the White House should contact Mr. Holder for his opinion … In a separate e-mail message that Mr. Quinn [had] sent three days before that to other members of the Rich team,… he wrote: ‘Spoke to him last evening. Says to go straight to W.H. [White House]. Also says timing is good.’ …
“For the next months, Mr. Rich’s team pressed ahead with the pardon … On Jan. 19, 2001, Mr. Quinn called Mr. Holder and let him know that the White House would be contacting him for his recommendation on the pardon, which he said was receiving ‘serious consideration.’ Mr. Holder told him that he did not have a personal problem with the pardon, and Mr. Quinn quickly passed on the gist of the conversation to the White House. Minutes later, Mr. Holder received a call from Beth Nolan, the White House counsel, who had opposed the pardon idea and was surprised to hear that Mr. Holder apparently felt differently.
“Mr. Holder, according to Ms. Nolan’s testimony, told her that if the Israelis were in fact pushing for the pardon, he would find that ‘persuasive’ and would be ‘neutral leaning toward’ favorable.”
The next day, President Clinton signed the pardon. Clinton later cited Holder’s assessment as one of the factors that had persuaded him to issue the pardon. And once the pardon was granted, Holder sent his congratulations to Quinn.
Although he clearly had interceded on Rich’s behalf beginning in 1999, Holder in 2001 told the Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, that “Mr. Rich’s name was unfamiliar to me” in 1999. Holder then elaborated that he had “gained only a passing familiarity with the underlying facts of the Rich case” during the months that followed.
But Holder’s account was entirely untrue. As early as 1995, when Holder was the Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, his office had conducted an investigation into Rich and his business interests for tax evasion and other suspicious activity. Also in 1995, Holder’s office filed a civil suit against the Swiss trading company Clarendon, Ltd. because that company, in obtaining $45 million in government contracts, had concealed the fact that it was controlled by Rich, whose history of fraud and his status as a fugitive rendered him legally ineligible for government contracts. Ultimately, Holder agreed to dismiss the case in exchange for a payment to the government of $1.2 million.
A March 2002 congressional report concluded that Rich’s lawyers had tried to circumvent prosecutors (who they knew would oppose the pardon), and instead had chosen to take their case directly to the White House. Holder’s assistance in this process, coupled with his failure to alert prosecutors of a pending pardon, was crucial, said the report.
In 2009, when President Obama nominated Holder to be Attorney General, Holder, at the nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, was asked by Senator Arlen Specter: “Were you aware of the kind of record this man [Rich] had?” Holder replied:
“No I was not. And that was one of the mistakes that I made. I did not really acquaint myself with his record. I knew that the matter involved — it was a tax-fraud case; it was a substantial tax-fraud case. I knew that he was a fugitive. I did not know a lot of the underlying facts that you have described.”
In written follow-up questions, Specter asked: “Did you receive information about the facts of the Rich case from anyone other than Mr. Rich’s attorney, Jack Quinn?” Holder responded, “No.”
HOLDER AND THE PARDON OF “FALN” TERRORISTS
Holder was also intimately involved in President Clinton’s August 11, 1999 pardon of 16 members of the FALN, acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation—a violent Puerto Rican terrorist organization (as designated by the FBI) that was active in the U.S. from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s.
The FALN was a Marxist-Leninist group whose overriding mission was to secure Puerto Rico’s political independence from the United States. Toward that end, between 1974 and 1983 the group detonated nearly 130 bombs in such strategically selected places as military and government buildings, financial institutions, and corporate headquarters located mainly in Chicago, New York, and Washington DC. These bombings were carried out as acts of protest against America’s political, military, financial, and corporate presence in Puerto Rico. All told, FALN bombs killed six people—including the Chilean ambassador to the United States—and wounded at least 80 others.
On April 4, 1980, eleven FALN members were arrested in Evanston, Illinois. More of their comrades would also be apprehended in Chicago in the early 1980s. All were charged with seditious conspiracy, but they refused to participate in their own trial proceedings—claiming defiantly that the U.S. government was an illegitimate entity and thus had no moral authority by which to sit in judgment of them. All the defendants were found guilty and were sentenced to federal prison terms ranging from 35 to 105 years.
On November 9, 1993, a self-identified “human rights” organization named Ofensiva ’92 filed a petition for executive clemency on behalf of 18 members of the FALN and another violent organization seeking Puerto Rican independence, Los Macheteros (“The Machete-Wielders”). According to a December 12, 1999 report issued by the House Committee on Government Reform, the prisoners themselves “refused to take part in any process that would legitimize the government’s actions against them, therefore they refused to file their own petitions.”
This presented a problem because the Department of Justice (DOJ) traditionally stipulates that clemency will be considered only if a prisoner first files a petition on his or her own behalf, an act which the Department views as a sign of contrition. Nonetheless, DOJ made an exception in this case and accepted Ofensiva ’92’s petition, a document which cast the FALN prisoners as blameless freedom fighters analogous to those Americans who had fought in the Revolutionary War against Britain.
Among the notables who joined Ofensiva ’92’s clemency crusade were Cardinal John O’Connor, Coretta Scott King, Jimmy Carter, and the National Lawyers Guild. Perhaps the most passionate support came from Democrat Representatives Luis Gutierrez (IL), Jose Serrano (NY), and Nydia Velazquez (NY), each of whom echoed Ofensiva ’92’s claim that the FALN members were “political prisoners” who deserved to be released.
The attorneys and advocates who were fighting for the freedom of the FALN prisoners first met with the Justice Department’s Pardon Attorney on July 19, 1994. In October 1996 they met with Jack Quinn, Counsel to the President. They were unsuccessful, however, in their efforts to convey the legitimacy of their cause to the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA), which in 1996 contacted the Justice Department and recommended against clemency; that recommendation, in turn, was forwarded to the White House.
But the matter was not over; OPA continued to meet with groups and individuals lobbying for clemency on behalf of the FALN terrorists. Then in 1997, Eric Holder—who was President Clinton’s new Deputy Attorney General (in the Justice Department headed by Janet Reno)—became involved in the case.
In this role, Holder was responsible for overseeing clemency investigations and determining which of those requests were ultimately worthy of President Clinton’s attention. As evidenced by a September 1997 memorandum from the Pardon Attorney, the Justice Department was, at this point, receiving numerous inquiries about the FALN and Macheteros—from the White House and from supporters of the prisoners. The aforementioned House Committee on Government Reform report stated: “Throughout the closing months of 1997 it appears that Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder was active in the issue. The privilege log reflects at least two notes regarding his questions on the clemency or his thoughts on the matter.”
On November 5, 1997, Holder met with Representatives Gutierrez, Serrano, and Velazquez to discuss the clemency issue. He advised the legislators that they might greatly increase the likelihood of a presidential pardon if they could convince the prisoners to write letters testifying as to the personal remorse they felt for their past actions. But no such letters would be produced for five months, during which time the clemency issue remained on hold. Meanwhile, in a January 6, 1998 letter a senior Justice Department official expressly referred to the FALN members as “terrorists.”
Then on April 8, 1998, Holder again met with FALN supporters. This time, they finally delivered statements from the prisoners as Holder had advised in November. But all the statements were identical—indicating that not one of the prisoners had made an effort to craft his own personal expression of repentance.
Undeterred, Holder then raised the question of whether the prisoners might at least agree to renounce future violence in exchange for clemency. One of the prisoners’ backers, Reverend Paul Sherry, made it clear that they surely “would not change their beliefs”—presumably about the issue of Puerto Rican independence—but was vague as to whether they were apt to eschew violence altogether.
Over the next few weeks, Holder and the Justice Department continued to meet with numerous advocates of clemency and to review pertinent materials which the latter brought forth on behalf of the prisoners. Holder clearly was the point man for these clemency negotiations. As Brian Blomquist wrote in the New York Post, “A list of FALN documents withheld from Congress shows that many memos on the FALN clemency decision went directly to Holder, while [Janet] Reno’s role was minimal.” Similarly, New York Daily News reporter Edward Lewine wrote that Holder was “the Justice Department official most involved with this issue.”
Throughout the clemency review process, neither Holder nor anyone else in the Justice Department contacted any of the people who had been victimized (or whose loved ones had been victimized) by the FALN. Most were never aware that clemency for the terrorists was even being contemplated. And those few who were aware of the possibility were rebuffed in their efforts to participate in the review process.
On May 19, 1998, the Pardon Attorney sent Eric Holder a 48-page draft memorandum “concerning clemency for Puerto Rican Nationalist prisoners.” Seven weeks later, on July 8, Holder sent President Clinton a “memorandum regarding clemency matter.” Indeed the Deputy Attorney General was methodically spearheading the march toward clemency—despite the fact that the sentencing judges, the U.S. Attorneys, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the FBI were unanimous in their opposition to pardoning the individuals in question.
In late July 1999 an attorney from Holder’s office spoke to White House Counsel Charles Ruff regarding the clemency matter. On August 9, 1999, Holder’s office and OPA held one final meeting to hammer out the details, and two days later the President made his announcement: clemency was granted to sixteen terrorists, most of whom had served only a fraction of their prison terms. Of the sixteen, twelve accepted the offer and were freed, two refused it, and two others, who already were out of prison, never responded.
Congress, for its part, was not pleased—condemning the clemencies by votes of 95-2 in the Senate and 311-41 in the House.
In the aftermath of the clemencies, a Justice Department report stated that the FALN posed an “ongoing threat” to America’s national security. And in late October 1999 the Senate Judiciary Committee released a report from Attorney General Janet Reno stating that the FALN members’ “impending release from prison” would “increase the present threat” of terrorism.
In an October 20th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, and again with reporters the following day, Eric Holder denied that Reno was referring to the same FALN terrorists whose pardons he had worked so long and hard to secure. Yet when Holder was asked to identify whom Reno was in fact talking about, he responded as follows:
“I don’t know, no, I don’t know that. We might be able to get you some more information on that, but, I mean, you know, there were certain people who are due to be released, or who were at least eligible for parole, had a release date in the next, as I said, three, four years. I don’t know exactly who they were. Maybe—we might be able to get you that information.”
Neither Holder nor the Justice Department ever provided any additional names.
In December 1999, a House Committee on Government Reform report stated:
“The 16 [FALN] terrorists appear to be most unlikely candidates. They did not personally request clemency. They did not admit to wrongdoing and they had not renounced violence before such a renunciation had been made a quid pro quo for their release. They expressed no contrition for their crimes, and were at times openly belligerent about their actions…. Notwithstanding the fact that the 16 did not express enough personal interest in the clemency process to file their own applications, the White House appeared eager to assist throughout the process. Meetings were held with supporters, and some senior staff [i.e., Holder] even suggested ways to improve the likelihood of the President granting the clemency. Overall, the White House appears to have exercised more initiative than the terrorists themselves.”