The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday began questioning Eric Holder, as he braced himself for a Republican grilling him over some controversial decision in his confirmation hearing, his path to becoming the nation's first African-American, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for attorney general.

My decisions were not always perfect while serving as the top deputy to Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno, Holder said. I made mistakes. I hope that enough of my decisions were correct to justify the gratifying support I have received from colleagues in law enforcement in recent weeks.

He continued, But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see my errors clearly and I can tell you how I have learned from them, I will be a better attorney general.

He acknowledged that he has made some errors during a lengthy Justice Department career.

Holder has apologized for not making sure he was better informed about the pardon of Rich, who'd fled to Switzerland while he was accused of evading more than $48 million in taxes and 51 counts of tax fraud, which had strong political overtones because his ex-wife was a major Democratic donor.

Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, had donated about $70,000 to first lady Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign and $450,000 to Bill Clinton's presidential library fund, leading to allegations that the Riches bought the pardon.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has questioned Holder's handling of the 1997 Clinton campaign-finance investigation.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, called for Holder's swift confirmation, saying Holder has good character and a long history of service as the attorney general of the United States of America.

As Eric H. Holder Jr. gears up to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for his confirmation as attorney general, some Republicans say they will question him aggressively about whether his ties to Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich are more extensive than Holder has acknowledged.

The committee scheduled the hearing in the ornate caucus room in Congress' Russell Office Building. It has been the site for many historic hearings, including investigations of the Watergate break-in and the Iran-Contra affair, and the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas.