WASHINGTON (CNN) - A leading Senate Democrat predicts Eric Holder will be confirmed as the nation's next attorney general, despite tough questions expected from some Republicans about his Justice Department stint during the Clinton administration.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters Thursday was "a highly qualified nominee" with a "strong character" Thursday. Leahy expressed confidence about Holder's nomination saying, "the bottom line is, Eric Holder's going to be confirmed, and he will have an awful lot of Republican votes for that nomination."
Holder will go before the Judiciary Committee January 15 for his confirmation hearing, and is expected to face a grilling from Republicans like Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Earlier this week, Specter raised questions about whether Holder would make independent judgments as attorney general.
Specter said he wants to know more about Holder's role in events that led up to President Bill Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Holder was then the deputy attorney general. He later told Congress he should have looked more closely at the Rich pardon, which was approved in the final hours of the Clinton administration. Rich's ex-wife was a major Clinton contributor.
Leahy pointed out he previously had criticized the Rich pardon, but said President Clinton bears the responsibility for that decision. The chairman said Holder is capable of making tough decisions affecting people from both major political parties. "I look at the number of people he prosecuted, both Republicans and Democrats. Is this a person who can say no?" asked Leahy. "Of course he can say no."
Specter has said he also wants to ask Holder about the Clinton Justice Department's decision against appointing an independent counsel to look into the fundraising activities of then-Vice President Al Gore. Leahy indicated he isn't worried about Holder's actions. "I don't have any question about his political independence whatsover," said Leahy.
Democrats have staged several events pushing Holder this week. Leahy has spoken out for Holder before, and Thursday he upped the ante by bringing along leaders of a number of law enforcement organizations who endorsed the nomination.
Leahy said he organized the event because he's concerned about a "change in tone" from Republicans he contended started after Karl Rove, a former top aide to President George Bush, started expressing doubts about Holder. According to Leahy, some of his GOP colleagues "have forgotten Karl Rove is no longer in the administration" and "they're too used to taking their orders from him."
Leahy called on Republican senators to make up their own minds. Some members in the GOP have voiced support for the nomination.