In the frenzied days before the transition of power to the Bush administration, the department reviewed the pardon request, and Holder graded the application "neutral leaning towards favorable."
Facing accusations that the president granted the pardon because of hefty donations made by Rich's ex-wife Denise -- as well as suspicion that Holder applied the somewhat favorable rating to the pardon application as part of an agreement with Rich lawyer Jack Quinn, who had also served in the Clinton administration as White House counsel, to secure the attorney general spot in a possible Al Gore administration -- Holder testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in February 2001.
"Knowing everything that I know now, I would not have recommended to the president that he grant the pardon," Holder told the panel. He claimed to have only a "passing familiarity" with the details of Rich's case, and said that he "did not think that the pardon request was likely to be granted, given Mr. Rich's fugitive status."
At the same hearing, federal prosecutors familiar with Rich's case testified that they were not looped in on the process. Additionally, officials claimed that there was a miscommunication between the Justice Department and the White House about the pardon.
House Republicans charged that there was something more sinister afoot. Former Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., said at the hearing that everything about the pardon "seems sleazy."
In 2000, Reno made the decision to deploy federal agents to the Miami home of Gonzalez, a 6-year-old Cuban boy who had washed ashore in Florida after a tumultuous journey from Cuba that his mother did not survive.
The U.S. government released him to relatives in Miami, but Gonzalez' father, who still lived in Cuba, claimed he should have custody of his son. After a legal battle, the U.S. government determined Gonzalez should be repatriated to Cuba to be with his father.
The photographic image of an agent confronting a scared Gonzalez hiding in a closet with his relatives seared itself in the minds of many Americans.
After the raid, Holder appeared on "Good Morning America." During his interview with Diane Sawyer, he told of comforting his boss, then-Attorney General Janet Reno, while the agents carried out their task.
"At the conclusion of this, I closed the door, at the time of the raid, and I held the attorney general in my arms, and she wept," Holder said.
"She did not want this to happen. She cares a great deal about that community, and hoped and prayed that there was a way in which this thing could have been worked out short of the enforcement action that she very reluctantly had to order."
Holder left the Justice Department after briefly serving as acting attorney general while Bush nominee John Ashcroft proceeded through his confirmation process. He is currently a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm Covington & Burling.
While at Covington, he has worked with big league clients, including the NFL, Chiquita Brands International and Merck & Co., Inc.
Holder told The American Lawyer last June that his wife, Washington, D.C., obstetrician Sharon Malone, was not enthusiastic about his potential return to government work.
"[She] tells me that I won't be going anywhere except back to my law firm," he said. "So I think President Obama is going to have to talk to Sharon, and she's a pretty formidable person."