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GOP Signals Heated Confirmation Battle Over Holder

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More signs have emerged that Eric Holder's nomination for Attorney General will face a bitter committee fight as Republican Senators on Thursday criticized Holder's work in the Clinton White House and even attempted to tie him to disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich

Addressing the Senate during what was ostensibly a session to debate the auto industry bailout, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) both took to the floor to raise objections not just to the current date for confirmation hearings, which they would like to delay, but to various episodes from Holder's past.

Grassley came first, charging that Holder is "not a nominee free and clear of issues." He went on to recite a laundry list of conservative complaints with some of the Clinton Justice Department actions in which Holder took part.

"For example," Grassley began, "there are red flags about Mr. Holder's judgment and independence, including his role in securing pardons or clemency for an unrepentant billionaire fugitive tax cheat like Marc Rich or terrorists like members of the FALN [Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional] and the Weather Underground. A lot of people, including this senator, have found these facts to be troubling... In addition, Mr. Holder has been in private practice since he left the Clinton Justice Department over eight years ago. It's important that we know what Mr. Holder has been doing in those eight years, which cases he's been involved with and who his clients are, what speeches he's made and so forth.

In addition, the Iowa Republican, towards the end of his speech, made what appears to be an effort to tie Holder to Rod Blagojevich, claiming that the disgraced Illinois Governor sought Holder's legal services.

"Public reports have just emerged that in 2004, the Governor of Illinois hired or sought to hire Mr. Holder," he said. "We... need time to learn what that is all about Mr. Holder has not provided the committee with all of this information yet."

Roughly twenty minutes later, Kyl took to the floor to echo many of the same criticisms.

"Bear in mind, this is the Attorney General of the United States, and an individual who has some controversy in his past," he said. "He was involved in the pardons of members of the FALN organization by President Clinton, the pardons of Pincus Green [who fled the U.S. with Marc Rich], Susan Rosenberg and Linda Sue Evans. He was involved in the very controversial raid in Miami by the border patrol agents to take young Elian Gonzales into custody."

Kyl went on to note that these matters may not constitute enough of a black mark on Holder's resume to deny him confirmation. Instead, he said, the committee needed time to look into the issues rather than move quickly on the nomination.

Then, however, Kyl did something one is not likely to see on the floor of the U.S. Senate every day, quoting prominent progressive legal writer Glenn Greenwald, who also expressed reservations about Holder's role in the Rich pardon.

"I am not alone," Kyle said. "Others have written -- Richard Cohen, for example, wrote in 'The Washington Post' that Eric Holder should not be the Attorney General. I don't know whether he's right or not, but the questions that he raises need to be examined. Glenn Greenwald wrote in the 'Salon' Magazine that his involvement with Rich pardon was substantial, continuous and concerted, much, much more than peripheral -- end of quote."

The complaints by these two Senators -- both of whom sit on the Judiciary Committee -- come one day after the ranking Republican on that committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, also raised objections to an expedited nomination process and concerns with Holder himself. Combined, it may not be enough to derail Holder's path towards becoming attorney general. In fact, it was reported that Obama introduced the nomination only after he was sure he had the votes for it to pass through committee (and, subsequently, the Senate). But it should make for a contentious and dramatic hearing.

Update - 6:30PM ET: It continues... Shortly after Kyl, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) took to the floor to raise the very same objections to Holder's nomination. The Oklahoma Republican, moreover, drew a fairly clear line in the sand declaring, in essence, that the GOP will do everything in its power to hold up the appointment if it doesn't get more time to look through relevant material.

"If it's insisted that we go early, earlier than we're prepared, so that we can truly ask the questions that we think the country would need us to ask," said the Senator, "then I think we'll have a difficult time ever moving that nomination and that should not be the case."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat on the committee, reminded Coburn that the time between the announcement of Holder's nomination (December 1) and the actual hearing (scheduled for January 9) will be longer than what the Senate used to consider the nominations of past attorney generals, including Janet Reno, Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey. Coburn responded by saying the Senate made a mistake in not taking its time to deliberate over Gonzales.