Sen. Hatch to back Eric Holder for AG

The former Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee will support Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Oregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group MORE's nomination for attorney general, giving him a major boost toward confirmation.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (Utah), who chaired the panel for a decade beginning in 1995, told The Hill that he will support Holder.

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“I intend to,” said Hatch.

His decision could undermine GOP efforts to stall or block the confirmation. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 Hoyer: Democrats 'committed' to Oct. 31 timeline for Biden's agenda MORE (Ky.) said Friday that Holder would be the only Cabinet nominee to face a tough confirmation fight.

Hatch said that Republicans should try to strike a cooperative tone with President-elect Obama during the first days of his administration.

“I start with the premise that the president deserves the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think politics should be played with the attorney general,” he said.

“I like Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEmanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Public officials are under physical and digital siege We must protect and support our health care safety net MORE and want to help him if I can.”

Other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, however, have vowed to grill Holder about his time as deputy attorney general under President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Is Wall Street serving its own interests by supporting China's? MORE.

Republicans and other critics have questioned whether Holder should be disqualified because he gave Clinton a green light to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich. The pardon created an uproar eight years ago because Rich’s former wife was a friend of Clinton’s and had given tens of thousands of dollars to his presidential library and Democratic political committees.

“People don’t realize how many people are denied pardons and deserve them a hundred times more,” said Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits McCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability MORE (R-Ala.), a member of Judiciary.

“I don’t see how anyone can lean favorable on that and lead the Justice Department,” said Sessions.

Holder, who had several contacts with Rich’s lawyers in the weeks leading up to the pardon, advised Clinton that he was neutral but leaned toward favoring a pardon.

“I don’t know why he felt he had to comment either way on the Rich pardon, which was so unjustified,” said Sessions. “We need to give him a chance to discuss it.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who is now the senior Republican on the Judiciary committee, has questioned whether Holder would maintain his independence under Obama.

Hatch said it will be important for Holder to explain his role in the Rich pardon but said he expected the confirmation hearing to settle his concerns.

“I like Eric; I think he’s a very fine person but I think he’s made some mistakes,” said Hatch.

“He’s going to have to explain himself,” Hatch added. “If he handles that well he’ll be fine. All the Democrats will vote for him.”

Democrats now hold a 10-9 advantage on the committee. That margin will likely grow to their favor once Senate leaders set new committee ratios.