Obama picks attorney general with Barbados roots
WASHINGTON, USA (AFP): US president-elect Barack Obama has named longtime lawyer Eric Holder to be attorney general, which if confirmed would make him the first African-American ever to hold the post, US media said.
Holder was born in New York City. His father was an immigrant from Barbados who came to the United States when he was a teenager.
Holder, who served as deputy attorney general under former president Bill Clinton, has accepted Obama’s invitation to head the Justice Department, Newsweek magazine said, citing legal sources close to the presidential transition.
Eric Holder. AFP PHOTO
Obama’s transition team did not immediately comment on the report, which was later confirmed by NBC news.
"Obama offered Holder the job and he accepted," Newsweek said, adding that "the announcement is not likely until after Obama announces his choices to lead the Treasury and State departments."
Holder would face Senate confirmation hearings in order to officially take on the post, which would put him at the head of the Justice Department as the US government’s chief law enforcement officer.
Holder was co-chief along with Caroline Kennedy of Obama’s vice-presidential selection process and, like Obama, is a fellow alumnus of Columbia University in New York.
"He was on the short list from the beginning and obvious choice," Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff told CNN.
"Also, a symbolic choice. This will be the first, he will be the first African-American to head the Justice Department, and that’s a pretty big deal in its own right."
Holder 57, is a partner in the Washington law firm of Covington and Burling. He has served as a superior court judge in the nation’s capital and was named the capital’s US attorney by former president Clinton before taking the post of deputy attorney general under Janet Reno in 1997.
Isikoff, who broke the story, said that the Obama team likely chose Holder because of his experience in the Justice Department and viewed him as a stark contrast to those who served under President George W. Bush.
Holder "lives and breathes the culture of the Justice Department. He served for years in the public integrity section of the Justice Department, and prosecuting political corruption, Republicans and Democrats," said Isikoff.
"One of the big criticisms of the Bush team both in the first term and the second term is that … they weren’t a part of the Justice Department, and they didn’t quite understand the very unique culture at Justice. Eric Holder does."
The current US attorney general is Michael Mukasey. During his eight years in office, Bush has previously named Alberto Gonzalez and John Ashcroft to the post.
Gonzalez resigned in 2007 amid controversy over his role in and tstimony he gave to lawmakers about the firings of US prosecutors.
Ashcroft, who oversaw a series of anti-terror regulations in the aftermath of the Spetember 11, 2001 attacks, resigned after Bush’s first term ended.
According to reports, Obama’s vetting team wanted to make sure that controversy over Holder’s role in the presidential pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich at the end of the Clinton administration would not prevent his confirmation.
When the Clinton White House asked Holder for his view on the potential pardon of commodities trader Rich in January 2001, Holder gave it a "neutral leaning towards favorable."
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.
Holder later came under fire for not raising enough questions about whether or not Rich should have been pardoned, but was not implicated of any wrongdoing.
"After reviewing the evidence in the case, and checking with staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Obama aides and Holder both decided the issue was highly unlikely to prove an obstacle to his confirmation," Newsweek said, citing one source close to the process.
Holder has said he met Obama at a dinner party in 2004 and was energized by the Illinois senator’s campaign to become America’s first black president.
"I think we share a world view," Holder told American Lawyer magazine in a June profile.
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 majored in American history at Columbia College before earning his law degree from Columbia Law School in 1976.
He currently lives in Washington with his wife Sharon, who works as an obstetrician, and their three children.