WASHINGTON - Some thought Barack Obama's nominee for attorney general might have the toughest time getting confirmed.
But at his Senate confirmation hearing, Thursday, Eric Holder went a ways towards defusing criticism of the most controversial issue hanging over his head --pushing the pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich during the last days of the Clinton administration.
Holder admitted error, telling the senators, "My conduct...my actions...in the Rich matter was a place where I made mistakes."
But Republican senators like Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter wanted more.
"It's hard to brush it off," he said. "It seems to me as a mistake."
On another matter of great controversy in Washington -waterboarding- Holder was plain-spoken, signaling a forceful break from the way the Bush administration sometimes handled terrorist suspects.
Near the start of the hearing, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy asked Holder if he agreed with him that waterboarding is torture and illegal.
"If you look at the history of the use of that technique, used by the Khmer Rouge, used in the Inquisition, used by the Japanese and prosecuted by us as war crimes," Holder began, "we prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam. I agree with you, Mr. Chairman. Waterboarding is torture."
His response could leave some interrogators and Bush administration officials nervous about whether a Justice Department headed by Holder might someday come after them.