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Holder: Obama’s seasoned pick for attorney general

An experienced hand at Justice, he would shift priorities on detainees and domestic surveillance.

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Holder has held public service jobs most of his professional life. In 1988, he was nominated by President Reagan to serve as a superior court judge in Washington. In 1993, President Clinton named him to become the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. He was the first African-American to hold that job. In 1997, Mr. Clinton elevated him to the No. 2 spot at Justice, the job that will likely draw the most scrutiny.

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Holder was a Clinton administration point man in defense of the highly controversial pardon of 16 convicted members of FALN. The group conducted a violent campaign with more than 100 bombings and other incidents from 1974 to 1983 in New York and Chicago. The attacks left six dead and roughly 70 injured.

Clinton officials defended the pardons, saying that none of the 16 had been directly involved in planting a fatal bomb and that they had already served 16 to 19 years in prison.

Members of Congress said the pardoned men were involved in making bombs and transporting explosives. They said that, despite administration claims to the contrary, the freed men never did renounce violence.

Some critics suggested that the pardons were aimed at helping first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton establish a political foothold with New York’s large Puerto Rican community in advance of her run for that state’s senate seat.

As deputy attorney general, Holder was called to Congress in October 1999 to explain why Mr. Clinton freed the 16 men. Holder said the president’s reasoning was protected by executive privilege and that because the White House had claimed the privilege he could not discuss the issue.

“Are you concerned that granting clemency to the FALN terrorists in this matter sends the wrong message about America’s commitment against terrorism?” Sen. Strom Thurmond asked.

“No, I am not, Senator,” Holder said. “I don’t think that anything that has been done by this president in connection with this case has in any way weakened our resolve to fight terrorism.”

Sixteen months later, Holder was back in the Senate facing questions about another Clinton pardon: Mr. Rich, the fugitive commodities trader who had fled to Switzerland to avoid prosecution in New York for alleged tax evasion and racketeering.

Questions were raised about whether the pardon was linked to donations to the Clinton library from Rich’s former wife.

Holder testified that he was preoccupied with more pressing issues. But he also testified that when he was asked for his opinion, he was “neutral, leaning toward favorable” to grant the pardon.

He said he reached that decision after he was told that Israeli Prime Minister Barak had strongly urged a pardon.

“In hindsight, I wish that I had done some things differently with regard to the Marc Rich matter,” he said in a written statement to the Senate.