WASHINGTON — President-elect Obama's transition team has signaled to Eric Holder, a senior official in the Justice Department in the Clinton administration, that he will be chosen as attorney general, but no final decision has been made, people involved in the process said Tuesday.
Holder, 57, would be the first African-American to serve as the nation's top law enforcement official.
As a top adviser to Obama, he has long been considered the front-runner for the job of attorney general because of his extensive record as a prosecutor and a judge and a well-honed reputation inside Washington. Obama's advisers appear to have overcome concerns that Holder's involvement in a presidential pardon scandal as President Bill Clinton left office in 2001 might cloud his nomination for the job.
Now in private practice, Holder served as a federal prosecutor, a trial court judge and U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia before becoming the top-ranking aide to Attorney General Janet Reno in 1997. He was regarded as a strong ally for federal prosecutors.
But his last days at the Justice Department in 2001 were marred by his peripheral involvement in Clinton's controversial pardon of the fugitive financier Marc Rich.
Holder told the Clinton White House at the time that he was "neutral, leaning toward favorable" on the idea of pardoning Rich, whose former wife, Denise Rich, had contributed heavily to Clinton's presidential library.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which reviews nominees for attorney general, said Tuesday that Holder's role in the pardon of Rich should be "a factor to consider."
Word that Holder was likely to be nominated as attorney general leaked out as Obama also began signaling his policy priorities upon taking office.
In his only public appearance on Tuesday, Obama indicated that he intended to move rapidly on one of the most ambitious items on his agenda, tackling climate change.
Speaking in a video message to governors and others attending a Los Angeles summit on the issue hosted by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Obama said that despite the weakening economy, he had no intention of softening or delaying his aggressive targets for reducing emissions that cause the warming of the planet.