Eric Holder Jr., by all accounts, is a decent, smart, caring, competent fellow. President-elect Barack Obama's pick to be attorney general had a brilliant career in public service: he graduated from Columbia University law school, worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was a trial attorney at the Justice Department, a Superior Court judge in Washington, DC, a US attorney, and, then deputy attorney general. He has served on various nonprofit boards: George Washington University, the American Constitution Society, Morehouse School of Medicine, Save the Children Foundation, the District of Columbia's Police Foundation, and the Innocence Project. He's been a member of Concerned Black Men for over 25 years. He also, in a way, represents what's wrong with Washington.
That's not because of Holder's infamous role in the Marc Rich pardon. That episode--which Holder will certainly be asked about during confirmation hearings, which are scheduled to begin Thursday--was a case of Washington pay-to-play. There's little doubt that Rich, a fugitive financier indicted for tax evasion, racketeering, and trading with the enemy (Iran), was able to win that last-minute pardon from President Clinton (with Holder, as deputy attorney general, leaning slightly in its favor) because he had hired a former Clinton White House counsel to argue his case and because Rich's ex-wife had pledged money to Clinton causes.
Holder's role in the Rich pardon may not have been instrumental, but it was a mistake--a terrible way to cap off decades of public service. But he is a poster child for something perhaps more pernicious and extensive in the nation's capital: selling out. Months after the Clinton administration ended, Holder went to work for the influential law firm and lobbying shop of Covington and Burling. (He also joined the boards of Eastman Kodak and MCI.)
Holder was doing what so many routinely do in Washington: cashing in. He took years of experience he had gathered as a public servant and rented it to corporations accused of serious wrongdoing. He smoothly went from doing good to doing well. In 2008, according to his confirmation questionnaire, he made $2.1 million at Covington and Burling. And he expects in 2009 to bring in over $2.5 million, including his separation payment.