A big potential stumbling block for President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for attorney general, Eric Holder, is his involvement in the 2001 presidential pardon of financier Marc Rich. And the top Democrat on the senate committee that must approve Holder was highly critical of the Rich pardon seven years ago.

Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said this in February of 2001 about President Clinton’s use of his pardoning power…

“The bottom line is with that enormous power comes enormous responsibility and frankly I have not seen anything in the Rich pardon suggesting to me the responsibility was fully carried out."

At the time of his pardon by former President Clinton, Rich was a fugitive, wanted on tax and fraud charges. Clinton later cited then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder’s recommendation on the Rich pardon as one of the reasons he ultimately decided to pardon him.

Holder has since expressed regret that he didn’t oppose the Rich pardon. The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter was also highly critical of the Rich pardon in 2001.

So, just how tough of a time will Leahy give Holder?

Shane D’Aprile is web editor at Politics magazine. sdaprile@politicsmagazine.com