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Public Statements

American Recovery And Reinvestment Act Of 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I thank the chairman for his graciousness, and I thank the ranking member.

Last week in the Judiciary Committee, I voted against the nomination of Eric Holder. I was not, because of time constraints, offered the opportunity to express my reasoning and logic for that opposition. Today, I rise to explain my opposition and to urge others to share my concerns to do the same.

I have high praise for Eric Holder as an individual and as a lawyer. I believe certain aspects, however, of his record disqualify him as serving as Attorney General. I plan on outlining those in this talk before the Senate today, specifically, his facilitation of the Marc Rich pardon, his defense as reasonable of the FALN terrorists' commutations, in addition to his views on the first amendment and second amendment, specifically his answers with respect to the fairness doctrine.

Eric Holder has spent most of his distinguished career as a public servant. By all accounts, he is a brilliant lawyer. His nomination was met with high praise from both sides of the aisle. His intellect and ability have been noted throughout his career, and they were duly noted in his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Moreover, I believe him to be a man of good character. The long line of individuals who have voiced support for his nomination speaks to the high regard in which he is clearly held. In our private meeting, I found him to be personable and kind. He is undoubtedly a good man.

These good qualities, however, are not enough to overcome the concerns I have with this nomination. In particular, four issues have caused me to conclude that Eric Holder should not be given the assignment as the next Attorney General of the United States. I believe these matters suggest he lacks judgment, that he lacks independence, and my concern is that he now, from his testimony, lacks candor for such an important job.

Eric Holder's role in facilitating the controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich is perhaps the most notorious blight on his record. Even now, 10 years later, the condemnation of that pardon is strong. Indeed, not even Mr. Holder will defend his actions, telling the committee it was a naive mistake.

Eric Holder's involvement in this unconscionable pardon suggests he has dangerously poor judgment or he has an inability to say no to powerful political pressure. As Deputy Attorney General, he orchestrated an end run around the Justice Department, ignoring the advice of prosecutors and career professionals who opposed clemency for Marc Rich. Although pardoning a fugitive was extremely rare, the candidate appeared to have no qualms with the proposition.

While he acknowledges his role in this pardon as a mistake, Mr. Holder offers a curious explanation for the error. He told the committee he was not familiar with Rich's record at the time of the pardon. First of all, I find this to be unbelievable, as the facts suggest otherwise.

Just a few years before the pardon, when Holder was U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, his office sued one of Rich's companies after an extensive investigation into contract fraud. The complaint that was filed in that case and comments that were made to the press make it almost impossible to believe Eric Holder was unfamiliar with Rich at the time of the pardon.

Moreover, given that Rich had been featured as one of the FBI's top 10 most wanted fugitives, it is even harder to believe Mr. Holder did not become familiar with the man in the 15 months that passed between the time he was first contacted by Rich's lawyer and the day clemency was issued.

To say that this pardon was a mistake is an understatement of the worst kind. As others have pointed out, the best thing Eric Holder could have done for himself and his boss would have been to oppose the pardon and convince President Clinton not to issue it.

While I readily acknowledge mistakes are inevitably made by us all, I find the excuse for this one implausible. Eric Holder is a bright and contentious lawyer. At the time of the Rich pardon, he had served for 3 years as Deputy Attorney General. In short, he should have known better. Because he allowed his good judgment to be overridden by political influence, I believe this act alone should suffice to disqualify him from higher office.

Although the Marc Rich pardon may have been the best known act of controversial clemency in Eric Holder's record, the commutation of sentences for 16 FALN terrorists became an issue of equal, if not greater, concern throughout the hearing. The FALN organization had been linked to 150 bombings, threats, kidnappings, and other events which resulted in the deaths of at least six Americans and the injury of many more between 1974 and 1983. It is not hard to understand why these commutations were strongly opposed by the U.S. attorney, the FBI, the pardon attorney at the Department of Justice, as well as the victims' families. What is hard to understand is why Eric Holder chose to ignore those opinions and instead facilitate clemency for these convicted terrorists.

New information discovered just before the hearing revealed that Eric Holder played an active role in securing these commutations. According to the L.A. Times, ``Holder instructed his staff at Justice's Office of the Pardon Attorney to effectively replace the department's original report recommending against any commutations, which had been sent to the White House in 1996, with one that favored clemency for at least half the prisoners.''

Unlike the Rich pardon, Holder has embraced his role in endorsing these commutations. He told Senator Sessions during our committee hearings that the decision was reasonable and has stood unapologetically by that statement, even when it was proven that he knew very little about the terrorists or their crimes at the time of the commutations.

Perhaps no one is as angry about Holder's role in this incident, or about his elevation to this distinguished office, as Joseph Connor, whose 33-year-old father was murdered when the FALN bombed the New York City restaurant where he was eating lunch. Mr. Connor was 9 years old. He has written numerous editorials and gave compelling testimony at our hearing about how devastating and indefensible these commutations were. I quote him:

We Americans have to make clear that we will not tolerate officials who would put our lives in jeopardy by releasing terrorists. It is a disrespectful affront to all Americans, particularly to those of us who have come face to face with their violence.

Mr. Connor's testimony struck a chord with me due to my own experiences with domestic terrorism. Having dealt with the shock and the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, which happened prior to the FALN commutations, I can relate to the grief and anger felt by the family member of a victim murdered senselessly by terrorists. I have seen the devastation these acts of violence inflict on a community and especially on the families they most directly impact. I have heard from the many law enforcement officers who work the scene, gather the evidence, and tend to the victims. I have witnessed the long and difficult process of prosecution, conviction, and sentencing. I know that bringing perpetrators to justice is a crucial part for these families' healing process.

I cannot imagine how all those things would come undone if justice were undermined, as it was in the FALN case.

The danger of commuting the sentences of terrorists responsible for the murder of American citizens and intent on killing even more is obvious. I will not recount those concerns here, but to help give a voice to Joe Connor and to the many other surviving family members of terrorist victims, I ask that our colleagues consider the effect these decisions had on them. We are accountable to each and every one.

Eric Holder also raises another concern with me and that is his hostility to the second amendment. I heard our chairman speak earlier about how he said he would uphold the second amendment, but when queried directly and specifically about components of the second amendment, the answers were not forthcoming.

As Deputy Attorney General, he advocated restrictive gun control legislation, such as waiting periods, an age limit, that a soldier coming back from Iraq could not own a shotgun because he wasn't 21 yet, a registration for every gun in this country, the elimination for me to be able to give my shotgun to my grandson when it is time to teach him to go hunting. All those things he has espoused limiting the second amendment.

While he has advanced those restrictions as a member of the Clinton administration, working under Attorney General Janet Reno, he remained active in anti-gun advocacy after he entered the private sector. After the attacks of September 11, he authored an op-ed for the Washington Post, entitled ``Keeping Guns Away from Terrorists.''

I will not go through the details of that piece, but the details of what he purports to support would have a devastating impact on the second amendment in this country.

Perhaps the most telling and unsettling aspect of Mr. Holder's anti-gun record is the signing of an amicus brief in the Supreme Court's seminal second amendment case, in which he argued that the Constitution did not protect an individual's right to bear arms. I believe he actually believes that--that we don't have the right. He now tells us that is settled with the Heller case. But on further query, we get tremendously nervous about his support for the second amendment. The Supreme Court rejected his view on the second amendment unanimously.

His statement in our hearing that he respects Heller as the law of the land does not provide enough assurance on his commitment to defend the second amendment. It is neither controversial nor instructive to make such a statement. What matters are his views on specific proposals for gun control legislation and regulation.

At his hearing, I used the vast amount of my time in three rounds of questioning to try and extract opinions from Eric Holder on the second amendment. In his testimony, he advocated a permanent ban on so-called assault weapons, an age restriction on handgun possession--again, many of our troops returning home and out of the military after 2 years would not be able to have a handgun because they are not 21--and closing the gun show loophole. What that means is I cannot sell a gun to one of my neighbors without a background check on my neighbor. I cannot actually sell a piece of material I have to someone without going through a gun check, or I cannot even sell it to my brother.

He refused to commit to defending State right-to-carry laws. There are more than 40 States that have these laws. He was questioned over and over and would not answer affirmatively that he would use the power of the attorney to uphold the second amendment.

He repeatedly testified that gun regulation was not a priority for either he or the administration. Consistently, Mr. Holder has unapologetically embraced his anti-gun views. Yet at his confirmation hearing, he would not tell us what those views were.

He has been a vocal gun control advocate in the past, both in his official and individual capacities. He was not candid on the second amendment issue, an issue he has followed for years, as he was on interrogation techniques, an issue which he could not possibly have enough information to prejudge.

After an extensive review of his record and his testimony, I have concluded that Eric Holder as Attorney General will not defend--not adequately defend--the second amendment.

Finally, I have serious doubts as to whether Eric Holder is committed to defending the first amendment against threats such as the so-called fairness doctrine. This policy existed for decades before being abolished in 1987 and rightly so. Today, the concept has been revived and the threat of Government censorship over the airwaves is again a real possibility.

At our hearing, Eric Holder was asked about his thoughts on this proposal. Specifically, he was asked whether, as a matter of public policy, the fairness doctrine should be reinstated, to which he replied:

[T]hat's a toughie. I've not given an awful lot of thought to [it].

It is hard to accept that Eric Holder, a former Deputy Attorney General, somehow missed the debate over this prominent issue in our society. It is even harder to accept his answer when reviewing his past statements about media bias.

This not-so-thinly-veiled attack targets the very media outlets that advocates of the fairness doctrine hope to cripple. While this may be an acceptable position for a private advocate, there is no room for this kind of bias in the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, Mr. Holder said nothing to ease concerns about his predisposition on this issue. In written responses to further questions from the committee he said this: If a law or regulation is enacted that seeks to implement some version of the fairness doctrine, I will work with other agencies in the new administration and in the Department's Office of Legal Counsel to reach a considered view about the constitutionality of the specific law or regulation under consideration.

Remarkably, although Mr. Holder was given an opportunity to distance himself from the inflammatory comments he made in the 2004 speech, the best he could offer was a commitment to give a ``considered view'' of any such legislation.

What I expected from a prospective Attorney General was, first and foremost, a clear and strong commitment to uphold and defend the first amendment. What Eric Holder said fell far short of my expectation.

The so-called ``Fairness Doctrine'' is not a ``toughie'' issue, as it was described by the presumptive Attorney General.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.

Mr. COBURN. I ask unanimous consent for 3 additional minutes.

Mr. SPECTER. Okay.

Mr. COBURN. As former FCC Chairman James Quello argued shortly after the policy was repealed,

The fairness doctrine doesn't belong in a country that is dedicated to freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

I agree and am disturbed that our likely next Attorney General apparently does not.

In conclusion, after listening carefully to Eric Holder's testimony, especially regarding each of the issues I raised today, I am forced to conclude that he lacks the judgment, independence, and candor necessary to be Attorney General. I did not reach this conclusion without careful consideration.

When I first came to the Senate, one of the first votes I had to make was on the nomination--to consent and advise--on Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. I had a catch in my spirit on that nomination. I should not have cast a vote for him. I was the first Republican to suggest that he should resign because he did not display the independence, the candor, or the support for the rule of law. Although hindsight is always 20/20, I reserve my right to do the right thing on this nomination. There is no difference between the lack of independence that has been demonstrated by the testimony of Eric Holder and his past and what we saw in the lack of independence of previous Attorneys General.

Oftentimes, nominees come to the Senate with nearly a blank slate. This was not the case with Eric Holder. His time in public service, specifically his stint as Deputy Attorney General for President Clinton, served as an audition for this position. His role in the pardon and commutations is very troubling. I believe, in summary, independence is lacking, candor is lacking, and judgment is lacking. President Obama deserves some degree of deference in his choices, but no President is entitled to a Cabinet member who will neglect the Constitution and his own sound judgment to facilitate a bad political decision.

I regret I cannot, in good conscience, support his nomination.


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