Some letter-writers have challenged my questioning of Attorney General-designate Eric Holder. The constitutional doctrine of separation of powers requires an independent judgment by senators in deciding whether to consent to presidential nominations. The Inquirer and other newspapers have called for questioning of Holder.

FBI Director Louis Freeh said the Marc Rich pardon was a "corrupt" act. He, as well as the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons, objected to releasing from jail the FALN terrorists. As deputy attorney general, Holder recommended both. He also objected to the appointment of independent counsel to investigate Vice President Al Gore's fund-raising. Freeh said he "couldn't think of a more compelling case to go to an independent prosecutor." The American people deserve Holder's explanations.

In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee needs to know Holder's views on fighting terrorism and responding to the massive corporate fraud that contributed to our nation's severe economic problems. Would he prosecute federal officials who used waterboarding? Would he accept fines or insist on jail time for big-time corporate crooks? Would he use antitrust laws to stop merger mania that restrains competition and makes consumers pay more?

The record shows I have not hesitated to ask tough questions or vote against prominent Republicans where warranted. The attorney general, one of the most important cabinet officers in the country, must be free from the taint of political pressure. The American people and the Senate need answers to make a reasoned judgment on Holder.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.)

Washington