The Democratic chairs of the Senate Judiciary and intelligence committees told President Barack Obama today they support Attorney General Eric Holder’s handling of terrorism suspects.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary panel chairman, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said they disagree with the barrage of recent criticism of the Attorney General and the Obama administration over decisions on terrorism cases.
“We should not let partisan distractions lead us to cast aside such valuable tools as the experienced terrorism interrogators of the FBI or forego convicting terrorists in our Federal courts,” the senators wrote in a joint letter to the president.
For months, Republicans have condemned Holder’s decision to try self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged coconspirators in a New York City federal court, arguing a military tribunal is a better forum. Democrats last month joined the criticism after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) raised concerns about the costs and disruptions to Lower Manhattan of a lengthy trial requiring high security.
Republicans have also been upset over the decision to treat alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a civilian and allow the FBI to read him the Nigerian national his Miranda rights after a brief interrogation. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin have suggested Holder resign over the issue.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced legislation earlier this month that would prohibit the Justice Department from using funds to prosecute KSM and his alleged accomplices in federal court. The bill has 27 co-sponsors, including Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Jim Webb of Virginia, all of whom represent conservative-leaning states. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who caucuses with the Democrats, also is a co-sponsor.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) introduced a companion bill in the House earlier this month. The bill has 49 co-sponsors, including Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Dan Boren of Oklahoma and Bobby Bright of Alabama.
“Congress should not tie the hands of our national security and law enforcement agencies, but should instead ensure they have the flexibility to use every means available,” Leahy and Feinstein said in their letter. “Congress should be working with you in a shared mission to most effectively protect our national security and to ensure that just convictions, once obtained, will be sustained and upheld.”
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Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.) today became the second Senate Republican and third prominent conservative to suggest that Attorney General Eric Holder should resign over his decisions on terrorism cases.
Conservatives have been critical of the administration’s decision to charge the alleged Christmas Day attempted airline bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in federal court as a criminal rather than put him in military custody for interrogation.
Bond said yesterday that John Brennan, President Obama’s chief homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, “needs to go” because of his role in the events surrounding the decision on how to handle alleged bomber.
And today, Bond told The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog, “I think Eric Holder has been totally wrong, and he should go too. It’s a question of trust,” adding: “They [Holder and Brennan] both came up short.”
Bond also took a dig at Holder for the Attorney General’s decision to try five alleged 9/11 plotters in a New York City federal court. The terrorism suspects will now likely be tried elsewhere after immense criticism from local politicians and members of Congress.
“Eric Holder said the 9/11 trial in New York will be the defining moment of his tenure,” Bond told the Washington Wire. “I hope it is.”
The White House has supported its national security leaders, according to the blog. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs earlier this week called on Bond to apologize for his barbs, the Washington Wire said.
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Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey spoke to Senate Republicans this afternoon, hours after he blasted Attorney General Eric Holder’s handling of the civilian trials for the five alleged planners of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Republican leaders declined to say what Mukasey spoke about at the Senate GOP’s weekly lunch. The last Attorney General of the George W. Bush administration, Mukasey said on the Fox News program “Fox and Friends” this morning that Holder’s decision to try self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators in a New York civilian court made it look like “amateur night” at the DOJ.
“[Mukasey] has been a leader, as you know, not only as Attorney General, but since leaving as Attorney General, in helping everyone understand the difference between someone who tries to bomb a convenience store on one hand and someone who tries to blow up a plane on another,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at press conference following the lunch meeting.
McConnell went on to praise Sen. Lindsey Graham for bipartisan legislation the South Carolina Republican unveiled today that would prohibit the DOJ from using funds to prosecute KSM and his alleged accomplices.
“I think the administration is going to retreat here,” the minority leader said.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill Tuesday, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair and FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the man who allegedly tried to ignite explosives in his underpants on a Dec. 25 Detroit-bound airplane flight as a civilian.
Sen. Christopher Bond (Mo.), the panel’s ranking Republican, criticized the Obama administration’s decision to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a civilian.
The Republican senator said “treating terrorists like common criminals can cost us life-saving information.”
Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.
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Key Senate Republicans today called on Attorney General Eric Holder to testify before Congress about the decisions that the Justice Department made about a man who allegedly tried to ignite explosives in his underpants on a Dec. 25 Detroit-bound airplane flight.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and four top Republican committee members wrote in a letter to Holder that the decision to have FBI agents interrogate Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and read the Nigerian his Miranda rights was “hasty.” They added that it appears that there was “little, if any, coordination” between the DOJ and national security officials.
“It is critical that the American people have a full and timely understanding of the policy and legal rationale upon which this ill-advised decision was made,” Sens. McConnell, Jeff Sessions, (R-Ala.), Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) wrote. Sessions is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee; Bond is the top Republican on the Intelligence panel; Collins is the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security panel; and McCain is the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee.
DOJ spokesman Matthew Miller defended the decision, saying in a statement last week that the DOJ consulted national security officials before Abdulmutallab was charged in federal court and not taken into military custody. It is not clear exactly when in the decision-making process the DOJ consulted the national security officials on Abdulmutallab.
FBI Director Robert Mueller testified last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the events surrounding the alleged attempted bombing were “fast-moving” and authorities had “no time” to get other investigators in place. But Mueller said decisions were made “appropriately,” including the decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights.
The letter is the latest in a series of efforts by members of Congress to address the Abdulmutallab case.
Sessions previously wrote a letter to Holder last week demanding to know who made the decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a civilian. Earlier this week, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Collins asked Holder to remove Abdulmutallab from federal custody and treat him as a military prisoner.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation yesterday that would compel the DOJ to confer with the Director of National Intelligence and the secretary of Defense before deciding if a suspected terrorist should be tried treated as a civilian.
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The Senate voted today to confirm a former U.S. Attorney to sit on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Beverly Martin, who served as a U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia from 1998 to 2000, will hear cases from Georgia, Alabama and Florida on the circuit court of appeals. She previously served as a U.S. District Court judge in Atlanta.
The Senate vote was 97-0. Sens. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) did not vote.
Martin is the fourth circuit court appointee by President Obama to win Senate confirmation. Five other nominees have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and await Senate floor action.
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Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball at Newsweek offer an interesting analysis of Sen. Kit Bond’s (R-Mo.) announcement last week that he was pulling the entire GOP staff off a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Central Intelligence Agency interrogation practices.
The move appears to be part of a broader campaign by congressional Republicans and the U.S. intelligence community to pressure [Attorney General Eric] Holder to rescind his recent appointment of a special counsel to investigate allegations of torture during the Bush administration.
The flare-up is significant because, whatever the results of Holder’s criminal probe, the Senate panel’s investigation offered perhaps the only opportunity for a full public accounting of the U.S. intelligence community’s conduct in the aftermath of September 11 attacks.
The result, Isikoff and Hosenball write, is the interrogations inquiry has become “hopelessly politicized.”
Bond, the ranking Republican on the intelligence panel, said he objects to Holder’s decision to empower a special prosecutor, John Durham, to examine whether criminal laws were broken during interrogations. Among the methods the CIA used against terrorism suspects is waterboarding, a method both Holder and President Obama have described as torture.
According to the Washington Times:
“Had Mr. Holder honored the pledge made by the president to look forward, not backwards, we would still be active participants in the committee’s review,” said Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the panel’s vice chairman. “Instead, DOJ sent a loud and clear message that previous decisions to decline prosecution mean nothing and old criminal charges can be brought anytime against anyone — against these odds, what current or former CIA employee would be willing to gamble his freedom by answering the committee’s questions?”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she regretted Bond’s decision to boycott the investigation.
Bond’s move came after seven former CIA directors wrote Obama, urging him to overturn Holder’s decision. The Sept. 18 letter reads:
Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute. Moreover, there is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.