Eric Holder Jr. planned to acknowledge past mistakes as he braced for a Republican grilling in his confirmation hearing, his path to becoming the nation’s first African-American attorney general rockier than President-elect Barack Obama’s other Cabinet choices.
Republicans see Thursday’s hearing as their best early forum for showing that as a minority party, they’re still relevant despite a Democratic sweep in November.
Holder’s prepared opening statement, obtained by The Associated Press, does not address the specific issues of character and independence that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have raised.
But it does set a conciliatory tone, with Holder asserting he made more good decisions than bad ones.
“My decisions were not always perfect” while serving as the top deputy to Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno, Holder said. “I made mistakes. I hope that enough of my decisions were correct.”
He continued, “But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see my errors clearly and I can tell you how I have learned from them.”
No Republican has yet said he would oppose Holder. But several have been sharply critical of his role in President Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich; Clinton’s sentence commutations for 16 members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group; and the failure to recommend an independent investigation of Democratic fundraising by Al Gore when he was vice president.
The Republican criticism followed statements by former White House political director Karl Rove that Republicans must question Holder closely.
Holder has apologized for not making sure he was better informed about the pardon of Rich, which had strong political overtones because his ex-wife was a major Democratic donor.
The committee scheduled the hearing in the ornate caucus room in Congress’ Russell Office Building. It has been the site for many historic hearings, including investigations of the Watergate break-in and the Iran-Contra affair, and the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, ranking Republican on the committee, has questioned whether Holder would be a “yes man” to Obama.
Holder addressed that issue generally, saying the Justice Department must serve “not any one president, not any political party, but the people.”
He said he demonstrated his independence as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, when he prosecuted “one of the most powerful members of my own party” — a reference to former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., a powerful House Ways and Means Committee chairman.
And Holder added that as deputy attorney general, he recommended independent counsel investigations for members of Clinton’s Cabinet and “the very president who appointed me and in whose administration I proudly served.”
This was a reference to Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Clinton’s sexual relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, which led to the president’s impeachment.
Holder promised to use “every available tactic to defeat our adversaries,” but strongly hinted he would reverse the Bush administration’s use of harsh interrogation tactics, warrantless wiretaps and detention of suspected terrorists without charges.
Holder said he would follow “the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Adherence to the rule of law strengthens security by depriving terrorist organizations of their prime recruiting tools.”
LARRY MARGASAK, AP