Attorney General nominee Eric Holder “assured senior Republican senators that he won’t prosecute intelligence officers or political appointees who were involved in the Bush administration’s policy of ‘enhanced interrogations,’” Eli Lake reports today in The Washington Times:
Holder’s assurances were apparently key to moving the nomination forward, the Times said:
Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, a Republican from Missouri and the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in an interview … that he will support Eric H. Holder Jr.’s nomination for Attorney General because Mr. Holder assured him privately that Mr. Obama’s Justice Department will not prosecute former Bush officials involved in the interrogations program.
But wait a minute. This isn’t exactly what Holder, who has said he considers waterboarding to be torture, told Republican Judiciary members in written responses to follow-up questions from his Jan. 15 confirmation hearing. He didn’t rule out any prosecutions. He just said it would be “exceedingly difficult” to prosecute those officials who relied on DOJ legal advice to carry out orders. He didn’t say anything about the officials who ordered up those orders.
Here’s what he wrote in a response to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.):
“I believe deeply in the principle that no person is above the law. But decisions to prosecute must depend on the facts. Government officials must do everything they can to comply with the law. It is, and should be, exceedingly difficult to prosecute those who carry out policies in a reasonable and good faith belief that they are lawful based on assurances from the Department of Justice itself.”
UPDATE: Mike Isikoff and Mark Hosenball report in Newsweek that a Holder aide is denying the Washington Times report.
“Eric Holder has not made any commitments about who would or would not be prosecuted,” an aide to Holder told NEWSWEEK. “He explained his position to Senator Bond as he did in the public hearing and in his responses to written questions.”
ANOTHER UPDATE: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc) just said on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show the White House had assured his staff the Washington Times report was wrong. “They indicated that’s not the case. He [Holder] certainly did not give an assurance there’d be no prosecution. So I don’t think he got that assurance, and that Sen. Bond should rely on such assurance.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Holder’s nomination today, 17-2. The full Senate is expected to confirm him easily in a vote as early as Thursday.