Obama s AG pick is anti graft crusader

November 19, 2008 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, November 19 – Eric Holder, who is reported to be president-elect Barack Obama’s pick for US attorney general, is a veteran lawyer with a reputation for fighting corruption.

The 57-year-old father of three, who if confirmed by the US Senate would become America’s first black chief of the Justice Department, also has a history of breaking barriers and shares much in common with Obama.

Like Obama’s father, who came to the United States from Kenya, Holder’s father was immigrant from Barbados.

Both attended Columbia University and embarked on successful legal careers, while sharing a love for basketball and for public service.

But the pair did not meet until a dinner party in 2004, when they began chatting and found that they "just clicked," Holder told American Lawyer magazine.

"I think we share a world view," Holder told the magazine in June. Obama "is not defined by his race. He’s proud of it, cognizant of the pernicious effect that race has had in our history but not defined by it."

Holder was born in the Bronx section of New York City and was raised in a mainly black neighborhood, but attended the elite, and mostly white, Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.

Relatives say he excelled at navigating both worlds, and continued to do so as a college student at Columbia, the Ivy league school where he majored in American history as an undergraduate and later earned his law degree in 1976.

He worked in the Public Integrity branch of the Justice Department in his early years as a lawyer, a newly created section that dealt with corruption by public officials in the years following the Watergate political scandals that led to president Richard Nixon’s resignation.

After distinguishing himself with nearly a decade of service, Holder was appointed in 1988 by president Ronald Reagan to the post of superior court judge in the nation’s capital.

He earned a reputation for being harsh on crime, and in 1993, he became the first African-American appointed as US attorney in Washington.

Holder, who was named to the post by Democratic president Bill Clinton, did not let politics interfere with his crusade to stem corruption.

In his first major case in 1994 he was instrumental in convincing Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, a Democrat, to plead guilty to two counts of mail fraud.

He also pioneered a domestic violence unit and came up with a new program to put city prosecutors in charge of particular sections of the crime-ridden capital, which encouraged more contact with the community and better witness cooperation.

Holder was soon promoted again, this time to serve as deputy to attorney general Janet Reno in the Clinton administration. Again, he was the first African-American to serve in that slot.

As deputy attorney general, Holder was sometimes frustrated by his second-in-command status and the bureaucracy that kept him far away from the close-to-the-streets role he held earlier.

In the waning days of the Clinton administration in January 2001, White House asked Holder for his view on the potential pardon of fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich.

Holder gave it a "neutral leaning towards favorable," and Clinton pardoned Rich.

Critics said the move showed that Rich had bought his freedom, because Rich’s wife had donated amply to Clinton’s campaign, and Holder later came under fire for not raising enough questions about whether or not Rich should have been pardoned.

The assaults on his integrity bruised him, but he was not implicated in any wrongdoing.

He moved into private practice in 2001 and presently is a partner in the law firm Covington and Burling, but colleagues say he maintained his love for the Justice Department and kept up his involvement in community service.

Enthusiastic about Obama’s bid for the presidency, the veteran lawyer joined Obama’s campaign last year as a fundraiser and overall strategist.

He currently lives in Washington with his wife Sharon, who works as an obstetrician, and their three children.


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