GOP Senators Want New Hearing on OLC Nominee Dawn Johnsen
By Ryan J. Reilly | January 14, 2022 8:20 pm

Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel hit implacable Republican opposition. (Image via CAP Action Fund)

The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold new hearings on Dawn Johnsen to become the new assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

The GOP senators argue that the failed Christmas Day bombing as well as other events require the panel to hold fresh hearings on her nomination, which the Senate returned to the White House without action on Dec. 24, Roll Call first reported yesterday. President Barack Obama intends to re-nominate her, despite Republican concerns about her criticism of the George W. Bush administration’s national security policies.

The letter obtained by Main Justice and signed by Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) says:

In recent weeks, there have been several incident threatening our national security and underscoring the need for more aggressive counterterrorism efforts, information sharing, and military and intelligence initiatives to uproot and eliminate al Qaeda and its affiliates from footholds around the globe.  At a time like this, it is essential that the Department of Justice provide sound legal guidance to the various intelligence and counterterrorism agencies within our government.

We believe many unanswered questions remain about Dawn Johnsen’s suitability to guide our Nation’s legal response to the war on terror through the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Mrs. Johnsen’s record calls into question her dedication to aggressive Executive action in national security matters. She has supported backward-looking investigations and written that the last administration’s detainee policies “failed miserably.” She has consistently advocated placing unnecessary constraints on the President and our intelligence professionals, constraints not required by our laws or Constitution.  Based on her statements, it is unclear whether Ms. Johnsen would be able to set aside her personal biases and provide the type of objective, yet aggressive, constitutional legal advice the President will need to effectively combat the continued terror threat. Accordingly, we ask that you hold a new hearing on her nomination before scheduling her nomination for a Committee vote.

We do not make this request lightly, but feel compelled to do so based on the nominee’s record and the position to which she has been nominated. In recent years, the OLC has been critical in authorizing appropriate government action to combat al Qaeda. For example, the Clinton administration OLC reportedly determined as a matter of law that the Executive Order banning assassinations did not apply to the targeting of top al Qaeda leadership, a ruling that appears to have been vital to CIA efforts in the 1990s and even America’s aerial drone program today. It is critical that OLC be led by a lawyer who is willing to support and authorize all necessary and appropriate action in our Nation’s continued war against al Qaeda.

For the Committee to properly discharge its advice and content duty, we believe a second hearing is necessary to evaluate Ms. Johnsen’s nomination and approach to the serious national security questions currently facing the administration.

A spokesperson for Leahy was unable to comment immediately. A spokesperson for Sessions, the ranking Republican, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter and whether Republicans would call for hearings for former DOJ Tax Division nominee Mary L. Smith and ex-Office of Legal Policy nominee Christopher Schroeder. Obama intends to re-nominate the two former nominees, who were returned to the White House with Johnsen on Dec. 24.

Marge Baker, executive vice president of the liberal advocacy group, People For the American Way, released this statement:

“This latest maneuver by Senate Republicans is anything but a good faith effort to protect national security. We absolutely face serious threats, and the Obama administration needs all hands on deck. Yet Senate Republicans are holding up crucial nominees like Johnsen and Erroll Southers, the president’s nominee to head TSA.

“Dawn Johnsen was nominated over 11 months ago, and Senators have had months following her hearing to seek additional information and to consult with her. That never happened. But now that the media is reporting that Johnsen has 60 votes for confirmation, Senate Republicans are suddenly interested in engaging her.

“The request for a second hearing is a transparent and brazen effort at obstruction, and too much is at stake to waste time on it. The seven Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have had their say - they voted in lockstep against Johnsen. But 60 Senators - including senior Senate Republican Richard Lugar - support her.

“Dawn Johnsen is widely considered to have the integrity, experience, and acumen to lead the Office of Legal Counsel. She also has an abiding commitment to our national security and rule of law. We strongly urge the Judiciary Committee to quickly move the resubmitted nomination to the floor for an up-down vote.”

Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report.

This post has been updated from an earlier version.


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  1. [...] senators have demonstrated over and over and over and over and over and over again, ad nauseum, the ease with which confirmation of qualified nominees can be held up for no [...]

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