January 12, 2009

Whitehouse Supports Holder Nomination on Senate Floor

MR. WHITEHOUSE: Thank you, Mr. President. I rise to speak on President-elect Obama’s nomination of Eric Holder to be the attorney general of the United States. It is nothing new in Washington for it to be said of a nominee that he or she is the best person for a job. That happens all the time. We’ve all heard it. And it will surprise no one in this room or elsewhere in Washington to know that it isn’t always the case. But in this case, for this appointment at this time, I believe that it is true. I believe that Eric Holder is the best person to be attorney general of the United States.

It is hard to overstate the significance of the work of the Department of Justice to the American people. It is hard to overstate how vital it is that the American people have confidence in that department, from the attorney general down to the most junior line attorney. It is hard to overstate the importance of our trust that this great department makes decisions on the merits, proceeds on the facts and the evidence and the law, and carefully protects itself from political interference. The Bush Administration has compromised the American people’s faith in their Department of Justice by compromising the integrity of the department at its highest levels. We need that back.

What we need now is an attorney general who, first, understands the inner workings of the department so that he can set the ship right. Second, will be fiercely independent and will make decisions based on the facts and the evidence and the law, not on politics or pressure from the White House. And third, has the temperament and experience to be strong and fair through all of the pressures that mount up on that office. Eric Holder is the best possible person for this difficult job at this difficult time.

We all know Mr. Holder’s long and distinguished experience at the Justice Department and within the justice system. He’s been a line attorney in the public integrity section, prosecuting corrupt public officials of both parties. He’s been a judge nominated by President Ronald Reagan. He’s been the deputy attorney general, the number two position at the department. He’s been the United States attorney for the District of Columbia. And he’s been a highly regarded attorney in private practice. One would be hard-pressed to find a better experienced candidate. It’s no surprise, then, that so many organizations and individuals that work with the criminal justice system every day have endorsed Mr. Holder’s nomination, including the National Fraternal Order of Police, the National District Attorney’s Association, the National Association of Police Organizations, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, the National Center for Victims of Crime, the National Organization for Victim Assistance, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Mr. Holder’s experience is unquestionable, but it is not only experience that makes him the right person for this uniquely challenging post. I know Eric Holder. When I was a United States attorney, he was my colleague as the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, and then my boss when he became deputy attorney general. I have great personal confidence in him. In our work at the department, the U.S. attorneys saw firsthand in Eric – over and over – the qualities of temperament, intelligence, judgment, and independence that are essential for an attorney general, and especially for an attorney general who takes office during a time when the department is in distress.

As I know Eric Holder, so also do I know the damage and destruction that was wrought by the Bush Administration on our Department of Justice. In the Judiciary Committee, under the distinguished leadership of Chairman Patrick Leahy, we worked hard to find out what had been done there and to bring it to light. My colleague, Senator Schumer of New York, and Senator Feinstein of California, deserve particular credit in that struggle. Because I had worked in the department, I was familiar with many of the institutions, the traditions and the practices of the department that had been cast aside or ignored. The result – the result was a damaged institution, its reputation compromised, its integrity challenged and its morale, sadly, diminished.

Now more than anything else someone needs to put that right. Eric Holder has the knowledge, the experience, and the character to do that. I’ve listened with a great deal of interest to some of the things that have been said in this chamber about Eric Holder and his character. Indeed, there’s been a not-so-subtle effort to question whether Mr. Holder is sufficiently independent of political influence to serve this nation as our attorney general. I cannot speak to the motivations behind this effort, but I can say this: Eric Holder is a man who spent 12 years as a line prosecutor prosecuting corrupt politicians of both parties. He’s a man who was sufficiently politically independent for President Ronald Reagan to nominate him as a judge. This is a man who, as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, indicted and convicted Dan Rostenkowski, the Democratic Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and one of the most powerful men in Washington. This is a man who recommended to Attorney General Janet Reno that she appoint an independent counsel to investigate President Clinton’s Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt. This is a man who advised Attorney General Reno to expand the scope of the investigation by Kenneth Starr into the Monica Lewinsky affair investigation.

It is not just me who has this confidence in Eric Holder, and in his independence, his character, his judgment, his temperament. Let me read what former Attorney General William Barr, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, and former Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh have said about him. In a letter to Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Specter, Mr. Comey wrote this — this is a quote – “from my professional and personal association with Mr. Holder, I believe him to be a man of strong character and first-class ability. I think he has the institutional knowledge, humility, and integrity to be a fine attorney general.”

My colleagues will remember that James Comey was the deputy attorney general for Attorney General Ashcroft. He was the acting attorney general at the time of that sickening raid by the White House Chief of Staff and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales on the hospital bedside of stricken Attorney General Ashcroft. He is the man who stood up against the warrantless wiretapping program and stopped it until it was brought right. He is the center, by all accounts, of what would have been essentially the resignation of the entire top of the Department of Justice if the White House had not blinked and backed down. This is a man who knows something about independence and integrity, and he vouches for Eric Holder.

Louis Freeh, who was the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, wrote this: “I am certain that Eric has the highest legal competence, total integrity, leadership, and, most importantly, the political independence to discharge faithfully the immense trust this nation reposes in its attorney general. In all of Eric’s interactions with me as FBI director as well as in his close coordination with my deputy and other assistant directors who also had extensive and sometimes daily contact with him, Eric always displayed total integrity, courageous leadership, complete fairness, and once again and most importantly, political independence.”

And former Attorney General Bill Barr, former deputy attorney George Terwilliger and others wrote that Mr. Holder’s “30-year professional career has consistently been characterized by unfailing integrity and a commitment to political independence. Eric Holder is the right man at the right time to protect our citizens in the critical years ahead.”

There is a powerful record behind Eric Holder of political independence. The measure of independence is not whether you decide against the president or your party on every question every time. The measure is whether you decide against the president or your party when the facts and the law direct it. In my view, Eric Holder has met that standard. And in the view of Republican attorneys general and deputy attorneys general and people who have served with distinction and know him well, they agree that he has fully met that standard. Mr. President, I take the senate’s role in the confirmation process very seriously. I believe that the Judiciary Committee must, and under the leadership of Chairman Leahy will, closely examine Mr. Holder’s record and his qualifications. This is our duty. And at the end that have process, I believe that the majority of colleagues will agree with me, and with so many others, that Eric Holder is the right person at the right time to restore our Department of Justice of to its rightful standing as the defender of what is good and what is honorable and what is true in our nation. I thank the presiding officer, I yield the floor.