On his first day as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama has made his first clear, serious mistake: He named Eric Holder as one of three people charged with vice-presidential vetting.
As deputy attorney general, Holder was the key person who made the pardon of Marc Rich possible in the final hours of the Clinton presidency. Now Obama will be stuck in the Marc Rich mess.
If ever there was a person who did not deserve a presidential pardon, it's Marc Rich, the fugitive billionaire who renounced his U.S. citizenship and moved to Switzerland to avoid prosecution for racketeering, wire fraud, 51 counts of tax fraud, evading $48 million in taxes, and engaging in illegal trades with Iran in violation of the U.S. embargo following the 1979-80 hostage crisis.
Seventeen years later, Rich wanted a pardon and he retained Jack Quinn, former counsel to the president, to lobby his old boss.
Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, was a generous benefactor of the Clintons, providing campaign funds to both Bill and Hillary, contributing at least $400,000 to the Clinton Library, and buying thousands of dollars worth of furniture for the Clintons. So it was not hard for Rich to get Clinton's attention.
From the start, the Rich lawyers ignored the government's established rules for pardon applications.
Instead of making a formal application to the Office of Pardons in the Justice Department, Quinn sent the application directly to the White House in late December of 2007.
The application was addressed to Beth Nolan, who had been an underling of Quinn's during his days at the White House.
Several days before the pardon was granted, Clinton met with Nolan and two other top aides who all urged him not to grant the pardon.
Nolan was particularly concerned about allegations that Rich was involved in arms trading after he left the U.S.
Two days later, documents in support of the pardon were sent by Jack Quinn to Eric Holder.
It was Holder who had originally recommended Quinn to one of Rich's advisers, although he claims that he did not know the identity of the client.
And he gave substantive advice to Quinn along the way. According to Quinn's notes that were produced to Congress, Holder told Quinn to take the pardon application "straight to the White House" because "the timing is good."
Is this what the second in command in the Justice Department should be doing? Advising someone to circumvent Justice Department procedures? And advising a party who has business before the Justice Department?
When Holder received the Rich materials, he did no independent research to determine their veracity and appears to have barely reviewed them.
Had he checked with the original prosecutors, he would have learned a completely different story.
But he never took the time to check anything and simply told the White House that he was "neutral to positive" on the pardons.
Clinton then issued the Rich pardon in between signing his own plea bargain agreement, and granting pardons to the client's of his brother Roger and Hillary's brother, Huigh.
Neither Clinton nor Holder ever consulted with the Pardon Attorney.
After the storm about all of Clinton's questionable pardons, the former president pointed to Holder's positive opinion as one of the major reasons that he granted the Rich pardon.
When Holder was called in to testify before Congress about the Rich pardon, he said that he thought that it was "not "particularly meritorious." But that didn't stop him from being a yes man for Quinn and Clinton.
And once the pardon was granted, Holder sent his congratulations to Quinn.
Officials at the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York were understandably infuriated when they learned about the pardon and accused Rich of deliberating bypassing their office.
In 2002, a congressional committee reported that Holder was a "willing participant in the plan to keep the Justice Department from knowing about and opposing" the Rich Pardon.
And this is the man Barack Obama has chosen to put at the epicenter of perhaps the most important decision of his presidential campaign - scrutinizing the backgrounds of potential vice presidential candidates.
His trust in the judgment of a man who recommended pardoning an unrepentant fugitive who had renounced his US citizenship, brings into question the presumptive nominee's own judgment.
It is one thing to reach back to Obama's pastor to raise doubts about his values. But it is quite another to scrutinize the record of his first appointee.
It couldn't be a bigger mistake.