President-elect Barack Obama held a news conference in Chicago Monday morning to introduce his national security team, including Eric Holder Jr., his nominee for the country's top law-enforcement official.
Holder's name has been at the top of the list of potential attorneys general since Obama's victory Nov. 4, and in recent weeks his nomination has been considered all but certain. Key senators have signaled they will support confirmation, though Republicans say they intend to question Holder about his role in the pardon of commodities trader Marc Rich in the waning days of the Clinton administration.
Even as the choice of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state dominated Monday's news conference, the Obama team is touting Holder's experience in "a number of significant positions in government." The transition team's official biography of Holder mentions his service as deputy attorney general and, briefly, acting attorney general in 2001.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Monday that Holder has the potential to be an attorney general in the mold of Robert F. Kennedy.
In a news conference at the Capitol broadcast on C-SPAN, Leahy recalled what he saw as the independence of Kennedy's Justice Department despite the fact that his brother John F. Kennedy was president. He said that the Justice Department of the early 1960s inspired young lawyers. "I look at the people he attracted -- some of the brightest people in the country," Leahy said.
"I think Eric Holder will be able to do the same thing," he added.
Leahy, D-Vt., said he and Holder have spoken about Holder's nomination, but only in general terms. "Eric Holder and I have known each other for so long, we almost talk in shorthand when we e-mail back and forth," he said.
He also said he would check with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, before setting a date for Holder's nomination hearing. But he said he hopes the Senate could move quickly to confirm a "package" of top Justice officials about the time Barack Obama takes office as president. "My idea would be to go boom, boom, boom, boom, boom," Leahy said.
Asked by one reporter whether he intends to continue to investigate Bush administration officials and their interrogation policies, Leahy said that he does. "Personally, I would like to know exactly what happened," he said, to prevent it from happening again. He added, "Torture is going to be a major issue. I can't tell you how much we've hurt our image abroad. All of that's going to be reviewed."
First reported in The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times