Leahy meets with U.S. Attorney General nominee

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy met today with the nominee to be the next attorney general.

Leahy says Eric Holder will be good for the Department of Justice. And he’ll be good for Vermont.

Elizabeth Wynne Johnson reports from Washington.

(Johnson) A prosecutor’s prosecutor… that’s what the Vermont Democrat calls Eric Holder. Senator Leahy says President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for attorney general can restore battered morale at the Justice Department. The Vermonter also said Holder has a good grasp of how crime varies throughout the country.

(Leahy) "We talked about a hearing I held in St Albans, Vermont, a small city near the Canadian border last Friday. I was really pleased with his understanding of the differences of the needs of law enforcement in small towns and cities.”

(Johnson) The senator downplayed concerns that Holder’s confirmation could be derailed. As a Justice official in the Clinton administration, Holder signed off on the outgoing president’s controversial pardon of financier Marc Rich.

(Leahy) "The irony is, it wouldn’t have made any difference what Eric Holder said about Marc Rich. Former President Clinton was going to give that pardon. Eric Holder in there trying to grab the pen out of his hand, he was still going to give that pardon.”

(Johnson) Expect Holder to be grilled about his failure to stop the 11th-hour pardon. Still, Leahy dismisses the criticism as a Bush administration tactic to deflect attention from its own track record of politically-motivated hiring and firing at the Justice Department. That controversy forced the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman wants to be ready to vote on Holder’s confirmation immediately following the Inauguration.

(Leahy) "So the Department of Justice, a fresh team, can come in and say, ‘OK. Justice is back.”’

(Johnson) To that end, Leahy is pushing to begin confirmation hearings as soon as the Senate convenes in January.

From Capitol News Connection, I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson for VPR News.

Photo: Attorney General-designate Eric Holder, left, sits with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, during a meeting in Leahy’s office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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