Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has begun laying out the questions he plans to ask Eric Holder Jr. next week during Holder's confirmation hearing to be attorney general.
In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Specter, R-Pa., said he plans to focus his inquiry on three areas: the pardon of fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich; the decision by Holder's then-boss Attorney General Janet Reno not to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Vice President Al Gore's 1996 fundraising activities; and the clemency granted to a group of Puerto Rican nationalists.
"All of these matters relate to judgment," Specter said. "They relate to whether Mr. Holder had the kind of resoluteness displayed by Attorney General Griffin Bell, by Attorney General Elliot Richardson, to say 'no' to their superiors."
Specter also said he plans to ask Holder his views on journalists' privilege, the Bush administration's surveillance policies and the Justice Department's evolving view of corporations' attorney-client privilege.
None of the issues Specter raised were new -- they echoed comments he made about Holder's independence four weeks ago and two letters Republicans sent asking for information about Holder -- but they provided new hints of how GOP senators might focus their efforts. Holder emerged last month as potentially the most controversial nominee of President-elect Barack Obama.
Specter emphasized that he was only raising questions, stopping short of opposing Holder's nomination. He vowed to keep an "open mind" and vote based on "the totality of the record."
Holder's supporters say they're prepared to offer examples of his independence, including his support of broadening Kenneth Starr's investigation into President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. In an interview, Specter tells Legal Times that additional examples will not alleviate his concerns about the cases involving Rich, Gore and the Puerto Rican group FALN. "I don't think that will answer those three questions," he said. "If you get to one out of four, that's [batting] .250."
Specter notes that he helped investigate two of the three cases he's focusing on: He chaired Senate hearings into the Rich pardon, and he was part of a task force related to Reno's decision not to appoint a special prosecutor.
He also says his staff has not completed his review of Holder's background. The confirmation hearing is set for Jan. 15.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.