Specter’s Game

Pennsylvania’s senior Senator has Attorney General-designate Eric Holder in his sights:

The senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Holder’s support of the White House’s stance on three contentious issues when he was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration suggested that he was too willing to do the president’s bidding.

[…]

Mr. Specter raised questions about Mr. Holder’s role as deputy attorney general on a range of issues that included an investigation into the 1993 federal siege in Waco, Tex., that left David Koresh and about 80 of his Branch Davidian followers dead, and an espionage investigation involving a nuclear scientist, Wen Ho Lee.

But he saved his sharpest criticism for Mr. Holder’s role as deputy attorney general in three controversies in Mr. Clinton’s second term: Mr. Clinton’s pardon of Mr. Rich in 2001, the president’s decision in 1999 to grant clemency to 16 members of a Puerto Rican militant nationalist group, and the Justice Department’s rejection in 1997 of an independent counsel to examine accusations of campaign finance abuse by Vice President Al Gore and the White House. In each case, Mr. Specter said, Mr. Holder appeared to go against the advice of career professionals at the Justice Department.

So the GOP is going to dust off a slew of decades-old trumped-up right-wing scandals in order to attack someone who was only marginally involved in each.

First, trying to use the above scandals to determine whether or not Holder can be “independent” from the President is pretty ridiculous, since Holder wasn’t Bill Clinton’s Attorney General; he was the Deputy Attorney General. Whether or not some of those incidents happened because the DoJ wasn’t independent enough from Clinton is a reflection on Attorney General Reno, not Eric Holder; all the GOP can really prove here is that Holder did his job, hardly a filibuster-worthy revelation

Second, Specter is trying to insist that the Attorney General have a certain level of independence from the President.  But, in 2005, Specter voted to confirm Alberto Gonzales as George W. Bush’s second Attorney General, even though Gonzales was a Bush loyalist who had served as Bush’s legal counsel ever since he was Governor of Texas. In fact, Specter was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Gonzales confirmation; at the confirmation hearings, he raised exactly zero concerns about Gonzales’ independence.  The double standard here doesn’t speak particularly well toward Specter’s integrity.

Third, we all know why Specter is doing this–he’s desperate to burnish his conservative creds. Specter will be up for re-election in 2010 and is facing a primary challenge from Club for Growth President Pat Toomey, who nearly defeated Specter in 2004. Specter is trying to redeem himself among conservatives by leading the charge against Holder. Plus, since Holder will be confirmed no matter what, Specter can gain some points without having to actually accomplish anything.

Yeah, I know our politics is often functions as the incumbent protection racket, but I just wish guys like Specter wouldn’t put good public servants like Eric Holder and Barack Obama through the ringer just to save their own skins.

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