Image: Eric Holder
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If confirmed as attorney general by the Senate, Eric Holder will be the first African-American Attorney General of the U.S.
updated 1/16/2009 1:39:20 PM ET 2009-01-16T18:39:20

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh urged the Senate Judiciary Committeeon Friday to confirm Eric Holder as the next attorney general as Barack Obama's pick won key support from another GOP senator.

Freeh's endorsement came during the second and final day of confirmation hearings before the committee.

As the panel questioned witnesses, Holder met with Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. Martinez issued a statement after the hearing saying he would vote for Holder.

Martinez's support, combined with that of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, should give Holder enough votes to avoid a filibuster challenge, assuming all the Senate Democrats support him.

"The prospects are probably good that he will be confirmed," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. No Republican senator has yet come out against the nominee.

At the confirmation hearing, Freeh said Holder had made "terrible mistakes" leading up to President Bill Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich while Holder was a senior official in Clinton's Justice Department. Freeh called the Rich pardon "a corrupt act" but said the corruption was not Holder's.

"I don't think it's fair to put that blame totally on Eric Holder," said Freeh. "He takes responsibility and he will never make that mistake again."

Holder was also supported at the hearing by Frances Townsend, who was President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser.

Video: A fair grilling on Rich pardon? She said she does not expect to agree with every decision Holder would make as the nation's top law enforcement officer, but she said she believes his choices will be fair and honestly made.

"I know Eric to be an honest, decent man of the highest ethical standards," she said.

Senators then heard emotional testimony from Joseph Connor, the son of a man slain in a 1975 bombing in New York City by a militant Puerto Rican independence group called the Armed Forces for National Liberation.

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Clinton granted clemency to 16 members of that group, and Holder has been criticized for his role in the decision.

Connor urged lawmakers to oppose "anybody who would be soft on terror."

Holder "never talked to us," Connor said, urging lawmakers not to confirm "this man who recommended playing Russian roulette" with American lives by releasing unrepentant terrorists.

The witness testimony lasted two hours, and the committee is scheduled to vote on Holder's nomination next Wednesday, a day after Obama is sworn in as president.

Obama's new Cabinet?In his appearance before the committee Thursday, Holder said the president's decision on the FALN members was "reasonable."

Most of his testimony, though, focused on how he would oversee U.S. legal and counterterrorism policy.

Holder declared waterboarding to be a form of torture, and he outlined numerous ways in which the incoming Obama administration will break sharply with the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies.

The 57-year-old former prosecutor who was deputy attorney general from 1997 to 2001 pledged to shut down the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in part by sending detainees to trial in the United States, and to restore the Justice Department's reputation of independence from political interference.

Holder told lawmakers he did not believe the attorney general's job was to serve as the president's lawyer — a frequent criticism of Alberto Gonzales' tenure under Bush. He also vowed to see how much harm has been done to the department by political scandals.

Video: Holder will follow 'letter and spirit of law' "One of the things I'm going to have to do as attorney general in short order is basically do a damage assessment," Holder said.

At the hearing, many Republicans chose not to attack Holder aggressively, despite pre-hearing bluster that they would challenge his record as a Clinton administration official and flex their muscle as the minority party.

"I'm almost ready to vote for you right now," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., after Holder agreed with the senator that the nation is at war with terrorists.

It was a similar story in other Senate hearings for Obama's picks to oversee the Homeland Security and Interior departments — Janet Napolitano and Ken Salazar, respectively. Both their hearings ended shortly after noon with no verbal fireworks.

Holder's testimony was just the latest sign that Obama will chart a different course than Bush in combatting terrorism. Obama plans to issue an executive order to close Guantanamo.

Holder said shuttering the prison would be difficult and would take time. Many detainees could be transferred to other countries, he said, and some could be charged and jailed in the U.S. That is a contentious proposal because many oppose the idea of bringing terrorism suspects onto U.S. soil.

The incoming Obama administration has not indicated what would happen to the detainees who were transferred to the United States. Holder said the administration was considering prosecuting the detainees in civilian courts, military courts or in some new hybrid court.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: 'Waterboarding is torture'

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