Hearing on attorney general nominee set for January

Senate Judiciary chairman says he wants to move quickly on considering Eric Holder.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Monday he plans to hold a confirmation hearing for Eric Holder, President-elect Obama's pick for attorney general, during the week of Jan. 5.

Leahy strongly backs Holder and wants to move fast on his nomination despite criticism by some Republicans of Holder's failure as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton to block the pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

In a briefing Monday after a meeting with Holder, Leahy slammed former White House adviser Karl Rove for giving Republicans "marching orders" to raise concerns about Holder's role in the pardon.

Leahy said his opinion on Rich, who fled the country rather than face tax-evasion charges, would not have mattered because Clinton was going to grant the pardon even if Holder "had tried to grab the pen out of his hand." Holder will address the topic during his confirmation hearings, but Leahy urged his GOP colleagues to focus on "rebuilding the public's trust in our justice system."

Leahy said former FBI Director Louis Freeh, a Republican, called him Monday to offer his support for Holder.

With confirmation hearings complete, the committee could vote immediately on Holder and other Justice Department nominees once Obama takes office. Holder met Monday with Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter. Holder declined to comment on the Rich issue after meeting with Specter for about an hour.