Obama's VP Screener Missed Problems with Controversial Clinton Pardons

As a top official in the Clinton Justice Department, Eric Holder, one of the people chosen by Sen. Barack Obama to help screen possible vice presidential candidates, failed, by his own admission, "to focus" on the controversial pardon issued by President Bill Clinton to fugitive financier Marc Rich.

In testimony before Congress in 2001, reviewed by ABC News, Holder conceded 'some bells should have gone off, some lights should have gone on" in his vetting process then.

Holder, now a lawyer in private practice, is one of three people selected by Obama to screen and vet possible running mates, looking for possible problems that could arise.

One of the three, Jim Johnson, resigned the post after questions were raised about favorable mortgages he received from a sub-prime lender, Countrywide Financial.


Holder, as the number two person in the Clinton Justice Department, oversaw pardon recommendations to the President.

Critics of the Clinton pardons said that the department's handling of the pardon process, under Holder, broke down in the waning days of the Clinton Administration.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has sought to make Holder's role in the pardons controversy a campaign issue.

At the congressional hearings, Holder testified that he regretted not paying more attention to the pardon process as it unfolded, and failing to foresee possible controversy.

"If I'd known, obviously, that it was going to turn out this way, I mean, I certainly would have done things differently," he said in response to a question about the pardon of Rich.


'I wish that I had assured that the Department of Justice was more fully informed and involved in this pardon process," he testified.

Holder said he paid less attention than he should have because he never thought the Rich pardon would actually go through.

Asked about the Rich pardon by the White House at the time, Holder said he was "neutral to leaning towards favorable if there are positive foreign policy implications that I don't know about."

The Israeli prime minister was among those lobbying for Rich's pardon.

Holder declined to comment on whether his admitted failures in the pardon process reflected on his ability to vet vice-presidential candidates for Obama.


Holder referred calls to Lanny Davis, a former Clinton White House Special Counsel and friend of Holder's.

Davis told ABCNews.com that Holder's admissions should not be held against him.

"He stepped up to the line and said, 'you know what? If I had to do it all over again, I would have done it differently.' That shows that he learned a lesson," said Davis. "If anything, he is a better vetter having seen how in one moment in time you can miss asking additional questions."

Davis also said that Holder was distracted at the time because of security concerns over the pending inaugural ceremonies.

At the time, Republicans and Democrats were critical of Holder and the pardons.

"I am really disappointed in the inaction that characterized your treatment of this matter during the time that you were aware of it," Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) told Holder at one of the hearings.

Congressman Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) said he agreed with Republicans that Holder's descriptions of what happened in the Rich case were "almost incredible."

"He neither recommended nor was he responsible for the pardon," said Davis.

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