I’m curious to see if Obama’s just-announced AG pick, Eric Holder, becomes controversial outside the blogosphere. He’s said a lot of very encouraging things about various government policies, but he has two enormous skeletons in his closet.
1. The Marc Rich pardon. You may recall Bill Clinton’s inexplicable and inexcusable pardoning of the financier and international tax evader of mystery as one of the low points of his administration. Holder basically claims he punted on the Rich pardon, in and of itself not especially encouraging, but there’s evidence that Holder helped Rich circumvent the normal pardon process, as was SOP at the time (more here).
2. Chiquita. Holder, as lawyer for the company, was knee-deep in one of the ugliest and most complicated stories of international business intrigue this decade. Basically, for years, the banana company had been paying protection money to Colombian paramilitary death squads, beginning with the left-wing FARC and ELN. In the 1990s, the right-wing paramilitary AUC, which emerged from the unimaginably shady world of Colombian narco-militias, became a force to be reckoned with and became the recipient of $1.7 million of Chiquita’s largesse between 1997 and 2004. An outstanding Portfolio article from last year tells the full tale.
Anyway, this was troublesome but not illegal until 2001, when the AUN was declared a terrorist organization, and the situation had gone from looking bad to worse–Chiquita went from paying off leftist militias to paying pro-business right-wing militias to illegally paying pro-business terrorist militias (i.e. at least when they were paying leftist militias it didn’t look like a conflict of interest).
Chiquita responded in a couple ways:
a) Claimed they didn’t know for a couple years that the AUC had officially been declared a terrorist organization.
b) Said they didn’t really have any choice.
The latter is where Holder comes in. Holder, making the case that Chiquita was in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t vise–pay the AUN and fund their killing, don’t pay them and see their employees get killed–negotiated a $25 million fine for Chiquita that kept their corporate bigwigs (including current Sun-Times CEO Cyrus Freidheim) out of jail. The Washington Post, the LA Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Huffington Post all have good, extensive breakdowns of the legal issues and logrolling that led to the settlement.
Salon legal blogger Glenn Greenwald argues that Holder was just doing his job as Chiquita’s legal counsel, a job that somebody had to do: “Holder is no more tainted by his defense of Chiquita than lawyers who defend accused terrorists at Guantanamo are tainted by that.”
Anyway, while Hillary is the big news today–she’s RedEye‘s cover pol!–I think it’s Holder, of all the appointees the president-elect announced today, who will emerge as the big story come confirmation time.