Senator Arlen Specter is taking the lead in a disingenuous attack on Obama’s Attorney General Nominee Eric Holder.
It is not a surprise that Karl Rove is orchestrating this fear and panic based attack. I’ve been told by several sources that he is in the sights of the Abramoff Scandal task force and I suspect that Karl faces serious legal jeopardy from several other ongoing DOJ investigations into the corruption of the Bush years. This may or may not be true, but Karl is attacking Holder like a man who fears an Attorney General with a long and aggressive record of pursuing corrupt political figures regardless of Party or patronage.
So far, the Republican attacks on Eric Holder are a classic Karl Rove political play—identify your opponent’s strength and then spin them into a weakness. So of course, the Republicans spin Holder’s integrity and long career of prosecuting corrupt public officials as meekness. And it is appalling display of Rovian chutzpa to equate Holder with Rove’s partner in crime Alberto Gonzales. The only odd thing is that this time out Senator Specter is the one dancing to Rove’s tune—but not that odd.
To the jump...
Arlen Specter has a long and at times distinguished career in the Senate. In many ways, he is one of the few "moderate" Republicans left in Congress and in his Party. Over his twenty-eight years in the Senate, there are many moments when one can point to him doing the right thing and putting values and principles over the dictates of the political bosses of the modern Republican Party. And then there are those other times.
The thing with Senator Specter is that his backbone always gets weak in the final two years of a six-year Senate term. We are now in one of those moral grey zones that pockmark the career of Arlen Specter. He is desperate to be re-elected in 2010 and he needs to solidify his street-cred with the wing-nuts in his Party. Karl Rove still has a lot of power among the extreme elements of the Republican Party. If Karl was neutral in the Pennsylvania GOP Primary for Specter’s seat—or worst, encouraged a conservative to oppose Specter—it would be a very tough primary season for Arlen. Rove’s support in 2004 helped Specter beat back a challenge from the lunatic fringe their party.
If Specter wants Rove’s help for 2010—and he needs it—then Arlen must dance to Karl’s tune.
Rove and his fellow Republican Corruptionists fear Eric Holder (see this Diary for more details). Holder is a career professional of the DOJ. He is fearless when it comes to exposing corruption. It is a strength of Holder’s resume and one of the reasons I strongly support him as Attorney General. Rove is attacking that strength on the basis of an admitted mistake with regards to the Marc Rich pardon and carts full of mud, slime and smears.
And to limit potential primary opponents, Arlen Specter has climbed aboard Karl Rove’s smear machine.
Perhaps fear of a primary challenger is the only factor motivating Specter to take the lead on opposing Eric Holder, but I doubt it. I suspect there is more to it, but Specter does have a record of jumping when his Party’s bosses tell him to do so—especially when he is within two years of running for re-election. Truth be told, Specter is no more independent from the bosses of his Party than a Georgetown poodle owned by a GOP dowager is from its mistress.
Perhaps nothing in Specter’s record illustrates his flexible spine like his actions in hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court Justice. When Anita Hill came forth with credible and serious allegations about the fitness for Clarence Thomas for the position, it was Senator Arlen Specter who led the effort to savage her credibility. More than any other Senator, it was Arlen Specter who is responsible for Clarence Thomas being confirmed to the Supreme Court.
It was odd at the time and it still is. A few years earlier, Senator Specter had voted against confirming Robert Bork, but that was early in one of his six year terms. Unfortunately for America and Anita Hill, the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings happened when Specter was less than a year from a Primary and just over a year from a General Election with Specter was on the ballot. In 1991 he was still taking heat from conservatives for opposing Bork and rightly guessed that he could survive a backlash for overt sexism more than he could survive disappointing the conservatives running his Party. Still, in 1992 he barely won re-election over Democrat Lynn Yeakel who rode that backlash to almost defeat him.
A few years ago Philadelphia Magazine ran a profile of Specter’s career through a series of quotations about him. The section on Anita Hill gives a clear idea of just what one can expect from Specter in the upcoming Hearings to confirm Eric Holder as Attorney General:
Anita Hill, from her book Speaking Truth to Power: "Specter began by assuring me that he was simply trying "to find out what happened." Nevertheless, in short order, any hope that Senator Specter would transcend the political was dashed. He began his questioning with an unmistakably prosecutorial tone. He used a familiar cross-examination tactic — a tactic common in sexual harassment cases. He ridiculed my reaction to Thomas's behavior, suggesting that I was being oversensitive, even to the point of misrepresenting my testimony. ... The tension between Senator Specter and me was measurable. The process seemed to break down completely. Senator Specter would repeat the same questions until he got the answer he wanted. ... The more he pursued it, the more inclined I was to resist. Digging in was, perhaps, for me one way of hanging on to some amount of my dignity. By now I knew that his questions were both insincere and ill-informed. Though I tried to answer him, I was equally determined that the Senator not put words in my mouth. With every question he asked, it became clearer that despite any declaration to the contrary, he viewed me as an adversary. Rather than seeking to elicit information, his questioning sought to elicit a conclusion that he had reached before the hearing began."
Lynne Abraham: When he interrogated Anita Hill, that was the first time I ever really wanted to just smack him. I was so horribly disappointed in him. It was so unnecessary to be so prosecutorial. It was his low mark in the U.S. Senate. The worse he got, the better she looked. And I'd tell him that.
Ralph Neas, former president of People for the American Way, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: The senator I saw during Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas — I quite frankly didn't recognize. It was like totally a different person.
Arthur Makadon: Anita Hill was a very uncharacteristic blemish in Arlen's career. My own guess is he was too concerned with his upcoming primary fight, and I don't think his demeanor during those hearings represented his bedrock beliefs.
Paul Weyrich, chairman of the conservative Free Congress Foundation, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: He saved Clarence Thomas. If it had not been for him, Thomas would have been defeated.
Arlen Specter, in his book: In October 1997, in the Oklahoma City airport, Joan's luggage cart became entangled with another woman's purse strap as we were preparing to board a flight to Houston. Untangling the bags, I looked up and saw Anita Hill. Quite surprised, I said, "Hello, Professor Hill." Hill looked at me and said, "Senator, Senator," either not remembering my name, which I doubt, or not wanting to utter it.
Anita Hill, in the Washington Post in 1997: It was sort of chitchat. It was bizarre. At first I was shocked, and I was thinking, "Am I mistaken, or aren't you the person who accused me of flat-out perjury?"
Neil Oxman, Lynn Yeakel campaign consultant: He ran a brilliant campaign against Lynn. She had said her father, who had been in Congress, was her political hero. Turns out he had voted against civil rights legislation, and Arlen beat her up about that in African-American divisions. And her church had some program about the Palestinians — even though it had nothing to do with Lynn, he used that against her with Jews. He marginalized her among those two groups to the point that she ran significantly behind Clinton among them. You've got to admire Arlen's shamelessness. He will do or say anything to win.
I think we can expect another low point in the career of Arlen Specter. His long record in public life has repeatedly proven that he will say or do anything to win.
And here we are again, in the final two years of an Arlen Speter term in the Senate. And once again we get to witness the sexennial molting of Arlen’s integrity, independence and values as he dances to the tune played by the extreme wing of his party. Every six years, Arlen bows to the bosses of his Party and carries their water. This time out, they want Specter to take the lead in attacking Eric Holder. And because we are discussing Arlen Specter, you can be certain that this just what he is doing. When Karl Rove says "jump", the only answer that we can expect Arlen Specter to give is: "How high?".
Following the orders of Karl Rove could be the only motivation that Arlen Specter needs to lead the effort to smear and oppose Eric Holder. It is possible. And yet I think there is more to the story. Eric Holder and Arlen Specter have a history that goes back to the days when both were in Philadelphia back in the late 1970s. It is a shared history that Arlen seems to have a hard time remembering.
Last week Arlen Specter stood up in the Senate and said:
"After our recent experience with Attorney General Gonzales, it is imperative that the Attorney General undertake and effectuate that responsibility of independence. Mr. Gonzales left office accused of politicizing the Justice Department, failing to restrain Executive overreaching, and being less than forthcoming with Congress ... I am convinced that many of Attorney General Gonzales’ missteps were caused by his eagerness to please the White House. Similarly, when Mr. Holder was serving as DAG to President Clinton, some of his actions raised concerns about his ability to maintain his independence from the president."
There are some Senators who could say something like this about Eric Holder and be credible. Arlen Specter is NOT one of those Senators. He knows better and this statement shows just how shameless Specter is when he is selling his soul to the conservative wing-nuts in his Party.
If any Senator should be familiar with the distinguished, independent and long record Eric Holder has built up in the Department of Justice since 1976 it should be Arlen Specter. From 1976 to 1988, Holder was on the staff of the newly formed Public Integrity Section of the DOJ. He was stationed in Washington DC, but Pennsylvania was where much of his anti corruption work was focused. Holder was involved in the conviction of three local Philly Judges for an extortion racket and played a key role in prosecuting the ABSCAM scandal, which in addition to exposing corrupt Members of Congress, also convicted members of the Philadelphia City Council, including the President of that body.
All over Pennsylvania, Holder was exposing corruption. And a great deal of that work was in Philadelphia—a town that Specter had taken credit for cleaning up back when he was a District Attorney. It was this record of being a "corruption fighter" that Specter rode to winning a Senate seat (after several defeats in statewide elections). And yet, here were these young punks from the DOJ in Washington like Eric Holder coming to town and finding scandals and corruption that Specter completely missed. I wonder if Arlen doesn’t bear some long-term grudges against Holder for showing him up or even putting old friends in jail. I find it inconceivable that Specter did not know who Holder was during those years and what he was doing.
By 1988 Eric Holder and the Public Integrity Section of the DOJ was getting way under the skin of Pennsylvania politics. Back then, the Keystone State was in the running to be named the "Most corrupt State in the Union". In February of that year, Holder and his team landed a conviction for Herbert R. Cain Jr.—the third Philadelphia Judge to be convicted in a six month period. On the occasion of the conviction, Holder called out the deep culture of corruption in Philly and PA in an AP story:
Another prosecutor, Eric H. Holder Jr., said three convictions of former or suspended judges showed an "alarming" problem.
"I'm also struck by the fact that there doesn't seem to be a hue and cry from the citizens of this city," Holder said.
A federal jury in August convicted suspended Municipal Judge Mario Driggs of extortion for taking cash from a Roofers Union official. A federal jury last week convicted suspended Common Pleas Judge Kenneth Harris of racketeering, extortion and conspiracy in a case-fixing scheme.
In a blistering closing address, Holder defended the use of Denker as a government informant, saying that it was "a small price to pay to root out the corruption in this city's judiciary."
"The system appears to be rotten, and it's rotten from the top down," Holder said. "Judges set the tone. ... Is it any wonder that the whole system the whole system stinks?"
Defense attorney Morris P. Baran contended the government's star witness, who faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on mail-fraud charges, had implicated Cain and others in wrongdoing only to save himself from a long jail term.
A few weeks later, another AP story about yet another corruption investigation in Philly reported that Holder was bruising the egos of the local Court House crowd:
Judges and others whose images are being tarnished by what officials say are a few rotten apples have become angry.
After the extortion conviction of former senior Common Pleas Judge Herbert R. Cain Jr., U.S. Justice Department prosecutor Eric Holder told reporters that corruption in Philadelphia's judiciary "starts at the top and goes all through the system."
The remark prompted a heated response by Common Pleas President Judge Edward J. Bradley, who said Holder should "keep his mouth shut."
"I don't think what he said was widely held," Bradley said last week, adding that Holder told him in a letter that he also told reporters the overwhelming majority of judges were doing excellent work.
Bradley said judicial corruption cases have presented an image problem.
"Realistically, I've got to say it has caused the public to have a lower perception of the court," Bradley said, noting the number of questioned or convicted judges is small compared with 125 total judges.
In his remarks after the Cain verdict, Holder also said he was "struck by the fact that there doesn't seem to be a hue and cry from the citizens of this city."
"The way that I see it as a citizen is that if you believe that the city officials are corrupt or the city is corrupt, you always have a last resort and that's the courts," Castille said.
"So if you have the courts taking envelopes of cash, selling verdicts ... then what else is there?"
Holder was not making friends among the Court House crowd in Philadelphia. He was an aggressive prosecutor from Washington coming to town and cleaning up corruption that too many locals had long decided to just to live with. In these corruption cases, Holder and the Public Integrity Section used every tool they could to expose corrupt government officials. In the above case, Holder convinced a crooked attorney to wear a wire. In the ABSCAM case the team created a fake Mid-Eastern company to snare bribe-taking officials. And when you are successful in exposing corrupt politicians they will find ways to push back.
Congress, in the aftermath of ABSCAM decided that prosecutors in the DOJ had to be limited in their ability to pursue corruption cases. The House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights began hearings in 1981 that led to new guidelines and restrictions on the ability of the DOJ to conduct undercover operations. These guidelines have been revised and updated over the years. Within the framework of these restrictive guidelines, Holder and the other DOJ professionals in the Public Integrity Section kept finding new ways to keep the heat on corrupt politicians.
In 1988, the Reagan Administration responded to these ongoing corruption investigations by kicking Holder upstairs. In April, Holder was nominated to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. His confirmation hearing was held by the Senate’s Justice Committee. Specter was on that committee. Holder was confirmed unanimously in October, 1988. It is kinda hard to believe that Specter does not know about Holder’s record as a corruption fighter. And yet, that is the line of BS, Arlen is pushing these days.
For many people, an appointment to be a Superior Court Judge is the pinnacle of a career, not a sidetrack, but Holder missed the DOJ. He missed the role of a Prosecutor. When Bill Clinton became President, he offered Eric Holder the position of U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. In 1993, he was confirmed for the position by the Justice Committee and once again Specter was there.
Now if the current Rove/Specter spin about Holder were true, there would be no way that the "weak" Eric Holder would have the courage to buck President Clinton and the Democratic Party. And yet, that is what happened. It was Eric Holder who prosecuted and convicted the most powerful Democrat in Congress, Dan Rostenkowski. As in all of his previous work, Holder was aggressive in prosecuting Rostenkowski even though it hurt President Clinton and helped the Republicans take control of Congress in 1994. In June, 1994 a report in the NYTs made Specter’s current Rovian attacks on Holder’s integrity seem insane (emphasis added):
Mr. Holder presents a broad case that, he says, embraces a long-term pattern of public corruption. House Republicans who were screaming last week about the possibility of a plea bargain must now concede that there is nothing in Mr. Holder's indictment to support fears about political interference from the White House or undue deference to the President's friend and health-care champion. [snip]
Meanwhile, Republicans who find political satisfaction in the breadth of Mr. Holder's charges have some business of their own to attend to. Now that Mr. Rostenkowski has stepped aside at Ways and Means, the Republican whip, Newt Gingrich, should ask Representative Joseph McDade to do likewise. Indicted two years ago on bribery and racketeering charges, Mr. McDade continues to serve as the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.
We’ll get to Rep. McDade in a moment, but it is worth noting that throughout the rest of the Clinton Administration, Holder exhibited a similar streak of independence. Colbert King of the Washington Post, recently wrote about the falseness of the Rove/Specter line of attack:
His confirmation as the nation's top lawyer is still expected. But knowing Holder as I do, I suspect he must be smoldering over one particular charge that has been swirling around his nomination: that he is a Washington sycophant who can't say no to power.
If Holder prides himself on anything, it's his integrity and independence. His friends in the legal community share that view of him. I've heard from some of them recently.
They cite his stance on Kenneth Starr's investigation of Bill Clinton. Holder, they say, urged Attorney General Janet Reno to expand Starr's probe to include Monica Lewinsky -- over the objections of powerful Democrats. Holder's advice opened the doors to the impeachment of a Democratic president.
They also say it's hard to stick Holder with a "soft on power" charge after he pushed for a special prosecutor to investigate charges that Clinton's Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt had lied in an Indian casino licensing case. The special prosecutor subsequently cleared Babbitt of any wrongdoing.
And what about U.S. Attorney Holder's 1994 prosecution of the powerful Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski? Holder advocates say that took independence, as did, they say, his prosecution of corrupt government officials when he worked in the Justice Department's public integrity unit. Fresh out of law school, Holder was busy sending corrupt FBI agents, a judge and officials from both parties off to jail. [snip]
Can't say no to power? Indeed.
Through all the highlights of Holder’s career, Arlen Specter was there. He was there again in 1997 when Holder was confirmed as Deputy Attorney General. Specter knows what Holder’s record is and yet he still jumps when Rove tells him to jump. Perhaps that is the whole story, but I suspect that Specter also has an old grudge against Holder he would like to settle.
Holder was pretty aggressive when it came to using wire-traps and informants to snare corrupt politicians and Specter may not have liked a DC based unit of the DOJ coming into his home turf and exposing corruption he missed. Specter may also be annoyed that a DOJ investigation of political corruption in Congress pulled him into the scandal—which brings us back to Congressman McDade.
Joseph M. McDade (PA-10) was yet another Pennsylvania Congressman waist deep in corruption. In the early 1992 he was indicted on bribery charges. The DOJ charged McDade with accepting gifts and trips in exchange for directing Government contracts to certain people and groups. McDade was acquitted in a jury trial in 1996. In an unsurprising coincidence, his lawyer was Jack Abramoff’s lawyer: Abe Lowell. The defense was a masterful tossing of dirt and confusion into the air. The US Attorney prosecuting the case was a fellow named Michael Baylson. He had been a treasure for one of Arlen Specter’s campaigns. McDade’s attorneys promptly subpoenaed Arlen Specter’s campaign records and pulled him into the scandal.
In the trial, McDade used an "everybody does it" defense and used Arlen Specter as exhibit "A". It seems some of the folks who gave McDade money allegedly in exchange for favors, also gave money to Specter. Other PA politicians were also pulled into the trial to help muddy the waters. In the end the tactics worked.
McDade got off and he was celebrated at the 1996 GOP convention. Next, the DeLay/Gingrich Congress quickly pushed through legislation that would make it harder for DOJ Prosecutors to pursue corporate and political corruption (like the McDade investigation) in the future. The legislation is known as McDade Amendment and it has been restricting and slowing down corruption investigations ever since. These restrictions on DOJ investigations helped to push the Republican Culture of Corruption into overdrive. The repeal of the McDade Amendment strikes fear into the heart of corruptionists everywhere. This is a yet another reason why conservatives fear Eric Holder. As Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, Holder fought to repeal the McDade Amendment as this February 1999 press conference by Eric Holder makes clear (emphasis added):
MR. HOLDER: I would like to just make a statement before we start.
In just over two months, the so-called McDade amendment will become law. And as many of you know, this is of great concern to us here at the Justice Department and throughout the law enforcement community. The law would protect the average criminal and not protect the average citizen. And that's because it will handcuff prosecutors, by requiring them to comply with a patchwork of contradictory state rules.
For instance, when McDade goes into effect, it will prohibit prosecutors from talking to many employees who want to turn over evidence of corporate fraud. And why is this? Because prosecutors cannot speak with represented persons if the person's attorney is not present. And in some states, an employee is considered represented if the company itself has a lawyer.
When McDade goes into effect, prosecutors conducting a multi-State investigation will be forced to reconcile inconsistent rules in different states and in different courts. That will impede our investigations before they even get off the ground.
And when McDade goes into effect, it could thwart our legitimate undercover techniques, such as court-authorized electronic surveillance, wiretapping and using undercover agents to infiltrate criminal organizations.
Now, in the past six and a half years, we have witnessed an historic reduction in crime across this country. And the Justice Department, together with State and local law enforcement agencies, has been on the front line of that battle.
If the McDade amendment becomes law on April the 19th, standard prosecutorial tools which have been used for a good number of years, would be called into question, and routine criminal investigations will be endangered. And that's why law enforcement organizations, civic groups, six former Attorneys General, and victim rights group all around this Nation are strongly opposed to the so-called McDade amendment. It is a bad law that must be modified.
No wonder it is taking the DOJ so long to prosecute the corruption of the Bush years. All these crimes crossed State lines and the McDade Amendment is consistently being used to thwart these investigations. I guess Tom DeLay knew what he was doing when he helped push it through Congress. I’ve looked around, but so far I’ve been unable to find where Arlen Specter stands on the McDade Amendment. Perhaps somebody should ask him if this is one of the reason that he is opposing Holder as AG. Perhaps Specter is afraid that a revitalized DOJ led by Eric Holder might expose the type of corruption Arlen shares with McDade, DeLay and others of their ilk? It strikes me as a fair question to ask, especially if Specter thinks it is fair to compare Eric Holder to Gonzales.
Arlen Specter needs a lot of push-back on his effort to carry Karl Rove’s water. He needs to know that 2010 will not be like 1992. He needs to know that we will remember what he did to Anita Hill and what he does to Eric Holder. We need to make it clear that Arlen Specter will pay a price this time. It is time to recruit a solid candidate in Pennsylvania and retire Specter at the ballot box in November 2010.
As for the near term, it is time to get Eric Holder’s back
When Rove, Specter and his gang bring up Rich and Elian and Watergate and all the GOP invented scandals of the Clinton years we need Senators who will bring up Abramoff and Cunningham and Rove and Katrina and Blackwater and torture and all the unresolved scandals of the Bush years. Holder should be asked how to restore the Public Integrity Section and how to root out those DOJ employees who have been obstructing justice from within. They could point to the example of Robert Coughlin who has plead guilty to helping Abramoff and his fellow corruptionists from within the DOJ. One might even ask why the Baltimore office of the US Attorney had to be brought in to investigate Bush appointees in the DC office of the DOJ where Coughlin used to work. And then there are the many ties between Jack Abramoff and John Ashcroft that have never been investigated. It might be good to ask Eric Holder how he would fight this Culture of Corruption.
But instead of focusing on progress and solving the deep problems caused by corruption, Rove, Specter and the GOP just want to discuss the scandals of the 1990s and freeze the future into their view of the past. Sure, I can see why they want to run from the Bush years, but we need to keep the focus on the scandals of the last eight years. We need to ensure that these many crimes are investigated and that justice is once again part of our American system. There are way too many Bush era scandals where justice has been delayed and obstructed for us to allow the GOP and their sycophants in the media to frame the Hearings on the Eric Holder Nomination as a rerun of the spin from the old Right Wing nonsense of the Clinton years.
The worst part about Specter is that he knows he is crossing the line. He knows that Eric Holder is a man of independence and integrity. He should be speaking for him and not against him. And yet here goes Arlen, once again following a well worn path to shame—a path he followed when he attack Anita Hill in 1991—and a path he walks a new as he lies to go after Eric Holder.
Arlen Specter needs to pay a price for this one.
I have Holder’s back in this fight. I hope you will join me in fighting these weasels.