Obama reportedly picks Clinton aide Eric Holder as A-G

Former US attorney, who served as No. 2 official in Justice Department under Bill Clinton, would be nation's 1st black attorney general.

eric holder 88 (photo credit: )
eric holder 88
(photo credit: )
US President-elect Barack Obama has reportedly picked a former high-ranking Clinton administration aide to serve as the next attorney general, the country's top law enforcement official. Eric Holder, a former US attorney who served as the No. 2 official in the Justice Department under President Bill Clinton, would be the nation's first black attorney general. An Obama official and two Democrats in touch with the transition team confirmed Tuesday that Holder was Obama's top choice, but the Obama official said the decision was not final. Holder did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday. Word of Holder's likely appointment surfaced while Washington was abuzz with reports that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former president's wife, was at the top of Obama's list to be the next secretary of state, the top US diplomat. Obama and Hillary Clinton met at the president-elect's transition headquarters in Chicago last week. Earlier, the former first lady had been widely mentioned as a possible vice-presidential choice after Obama vanquished her in the lengthy and often bitter Democratic presidential primary. Obama, who ran for president on a platform of change, was raising eyebrows with his heavy focus on officials from the former Clinton administration in his transition team and his consideration of them for his Cabinet. He has already named Rahm Emanuel, a key Democrat in Congress and a top White House official under Clinton, to serve as his chief of staff. The expected appointment of Holder, who served on the search committee that settled on Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as Obama's vice-presidential running mate, emerged after the president-elect's aides began canvassing senators about Holder's chances for confirmation. The Senate must confirm cabinet secreteries by a simple majority vote. In particular, the Obama aides questioned whether Holder's confirmation would be delayed because of his involvement in President Clinton's end-of-term 2001 pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. One person involved in the talks said the Obama team has received some assurances that, while the Rich pardon would come up during Senate hearings, the nomination likely would not be held up. All those who spoke about Holder did so on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. On the last day of Clinton's term, Holder was asked whether the president should pardon Rich, a wealthy commodities dealer who had spent years on the run. The financier was convicted in 1983 of doing illegal oil deals with Iran while US hostages were held there, as well as tax evasion and tax fraud. Holder said he was "neutral, leaning towards favorable" on the pardon. Clinton later cited that as among the factors that persuaded him to issue the pardon. Holder has publicly apologized for what he said was a snap decision that he should have paid more attention to. Had he taken more time to review the case, he would have advised against a pardon, he said. Holder, 57, also a former judge and US attorney in Washington, is widely respected in legal circles and among Justice Department career lawyers. He has been on Obama's short list to be attorney general since before the election, and already has had private conversations about how he would run the department. One of his top priorities, according to a person familiar with his thinking, is to rebuild the department's reputation after its fiercely independent image was tarnished by charges of political meddling by the White House during the Bush administration. For that reason, Holder has been reluctant to lobby for the attorney general's post for fear the Rich pardon would invite an explosive nomination process and further strain the department's credibility, this person said. Also Tuesday, the Obama daughters got a tour of their new White House residence from Jenna and Barbara Bush. President George W. Bush's twin daughters showed their rooms to Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, as they toured the residential areas of the White House with their mother, Michelle, at the invitation of first lady Laura Bush. The Obamas spent about an hour at the mansion, said Sally McDonough, a spokeswoman for Laura Bush. Mrs. Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, was also with the group. "The first lady graciously invited Mrs. Obama, her mother and the girls to visit what will be their new home," said Michelle Obama's spokeswoman, Katie McCormick Lelyveld. "Of course, Mrs. Obama greatly appreciated this invitation to provide an opportunity for the girls to feel at home and become comfortable in this transition process." The visit was private, with no media coverage or photos. Earlier in the day, the Obama family visited top choices for schools "to make sure we find the right fit," Lelyveld said. She would not name the schools. A small motorcade was parked outside the Sidwell Friends, a Quaker school attended by Chelsea Clinton, on Tuesday for about 40 minutes, and a similar motorcade was at the back entrance of Georgetown Day School on Monday. The Georgetown Day motorcade left after a group of people emerged, but Michelle Obama was not seen among them. Both Georgetown Day and Sidwell Friends are private institutions. The president-elect's family also has discussed public school options for the two girls, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee said last week. Barack Obama, meanwhile, called five foreign leaders Tuesday, continuing to respond to the congratulatory calls that poured in after his election two weeks ago from dignitaries around the globe. The Obama transition office said Obama expressed his appreciation for their congratulations. The calls included: - Argentine President Cristina Fernandez - Chilean President Michelle Bachelet - Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen - Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama also spoke by video to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's international climate change summit on Tuesday in Beverly Hills, California. "Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will ... help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change," Obama said.