Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Republican Senator Blasts Nominee for Attorney General

Republican Senator Blasts Nominee for Attorney General
By Eric Lichtblau
WASHINGTON – A leading Republican senator issued a broad attack Tuesday on President-elect Obama’s pick as attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., and questioned the nominee’s political independence in advance of Mr. Holder’s confirmation hearing next week.

The sharp criticism from the senator, Arlen Specter of Pennylvania, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, signals that Republicans have identified as Mr. Holder as perhaps the most vulnerable of Mr. Obama’s nominees. Democrats say they still expect the Democratic-controlled Senate to approve Mr. Holder, but they acknowledge privately that he faces a tougher fight than they had anticipated when he was first picked five weeks ago.

Republicans appear eager to use Mr. Holder’s nomination to assert their ability to make life uncomfortable for the new administration, with advisers suggesting that they hope the number of no votes cast against Mr. Holder might approach the 42 such votes cast against John Ashcroft’s nomination as attorney general eight years ago.

Before Tuesday, Mr. Specter had been mildly skeptical of Mr. Holder’s his role in the Marc Rich pardon controversy while withholding judgment on how he would vote. But he let loose on the Senate floor with a speech that compared Mr. Holder to Alberto Gonzales, who was forced to step down as attorney general despite close ties to President Bush, criticizing his “ability to maintain his independence from the president.”

In addition to the Rich pardon, Mr. Specter criticized Mr. Holder’s actions in the Wen Ho Lee espionage investigation, the Waco siege, allegations of campaign finance abuse by the Clinton White House, and other matters.

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