Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on Thursday prevented the full Senate from considering the nomination of James Cole to be Deputy Attorney General, shining light on continued Republican opposition to the nominee.
Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, objected on the Senate floor to a motion from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy to consider the nominee for the No. 2 official at the Justice Department. The Republican senator said he would continue to oppose moving forward on the nomination while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are discussing which nominees will come up for consideration before the Senate adjourns this year.
If the Senate does not confirm Cole before it adjourns sine die in the next few weeks, the nomination will be sent back to President Barack Obama. Nominated in May, Cole has stalled in the Senate since the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed him along a party-line vote in July.
In a fiery speech on the Senate floor, Sessions repeated his long-standing concerns about Cole’s work as an independent monitor for insurance giant AIG, which the Federal Reserve bailed out during the 2008 financial industry crisis. The senator also reiterated his worries about a 2002 article Cole wrote in support of civilian trials for terrorism suspects.
Many congressional Republicans have expressed anger over Attorney General Eric Holder’s support for using civilian courts for some terrorism cases, mostly notably in the failed attempt to try confessed 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and four plotters in federal court in Manhattan.
A federal jury’s acquittal last month of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on all but one count in the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa stoked further Republican fury against the Attorney General, with potential 2012 presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty saying he should resign over the handling of the case.
Sessions said the Deputy Attorney General nominee needs to bring a different perspective from Holder.
“I would have liked to have seen a Deputy Attorney General nominee who was not in that mold [of Holder], but who is more of a career prosecutor that would help bring some balance there and bring to the Attorney General some input from a more traditional view of the role of the Attorney General as someone who prosecutes criminals, protects the United States, defends law-abiding Americans from terrorists and thugs who attack them,” Sessions said on the Senate floor.
Cole was the House ethics committee special counsel who investigated then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in the 1990s for the misuse of tax-exempt organizations for political purposes. The House issued a rare formal reprimand against Gingrich and ordered him to pay a $300,000 penalty.
A former DOJ Criminal Division official, Cole said during his nomination hearing in June that he supports “use [of] all available means” in defense of national security. The nominee, a partner at the law firm of Bryan Cave LLP in D.C., pushed back against Republican concerns about his 2002 op-ed that supported the use of federal courts for terrorism suspects. Cole said recent improvements in military commissions now make commissions a more viable option than in 2002.
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and Leahy on the Senate floor Thursday expressed disappointment in the delays on the nomination. Leahy said Republican opposition to moving on the nomination is “shameful.”
The Judiciary Committee chairman noted that the Senate has moved quickly on other Deputy Attorney General nominees. National Public Radio reported that Cole has waited longer for confirmation than any other Deputy Attorney General nominee since before the Ronald Reagan administration.
“At least have the courage to vote ‘yes’ or vote ‘no,’ ” Leahy said. “Somewhere, sometime we’ve got to stop this voting ‘maybe.’ It allows everybody to go home and say, ‘I may be here, I may be there. I may be blah, blah, blah, blah.’ That’s what it amounts to.”
Sessions said George W. Bush Deputy Attorney General nominees were not “rubber stamped within a day or two” by the Senate. The Republican senator noted that Bush withdrew the Deputy Attorney General nomination of Timothy Flanigan, who faced criticism from Democrats in 2005.
Senate Democrats raised questions about Flanigan’s ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his involvement in the crafting of guidelines that dealt with the use of harsh interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects. His withdrawal came after he waited about two months for the full Senate to consider his nomination.
“I wish the president nominated somebody like Larry Thompson, who was Deputy Attorney General under President Bush, who everybody respected and would go right through like a knife through hot butter,” Sessions said.
The Senate confirmed David Ogden, the last presidentially appointed Deputy Attorney General, less than two months after his nomination by Obama. Ogden stepped down in February.
Gary Grindler has served as acting Deputy Attorney General since Ogden’s resignation.