Late Friday, the White House nominated James Cole, a former public corruption prosecutor, for Deputy Attorney General, the Justice Department’s number 2 spot.
The post has been vacant since David Ogden stepped down in February.
Cole, a partner at Bryan Cave LLP, first joined the Justice Department in 1979 as a trial lawyer in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section — where he befriended now-Attorney General Eric Holder – and left in the 1990s as Deputy Chief. He also served as chief of staff for the special counsel who investigated the House banking scandal.
In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he would ask Senate Republicans to allow him to expedite the nomination — in spite of the focus on the Supreme Court nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan. The committee is set to begin hearings on Kagan’s nomination on June 28.
“I look forward to Jim Cole’s nomination, and to its consideration by the Judiciary Committee at the earliest possible time,” Leahy said. ” Just as I expedited consideration of Mark Filip to be the Deputy Attorney General during the Bush administration, I will ask all Senators, Republicans and Democrats, to join in expediting our consideration of Jim Cole’s nomination to this extremely important law enforcement position.”
Former Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger who served in the post during the George H. W. Bush administration, said he expects Cole will do well because of his history and chemistry with Holder.
“The DAG and AG need to be on the same oar, on the same stroke every day,” said Terwilliger of White & Case LLP. “There are too many important decisions to leave a position like that open. I know Grindler, and I’m sure he’s done a great job there, but an acting DAG just doesn’t have the same level of authority to do what needs to be done.”
Others who had worked with Cole in the Clinton administration also praised the nomination.
“I think he’ll be a terrific DAG,” said W. Neil Eggleston of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. Eggleston, who worked in the White House counsel’s office during the Clinton administration, has known Cole for 20 years as a defense lawyer. “He has experience in the critical areas that the DAG supervises. He’ll also be respectful of the needs of the institution. He’ll get up on the learning curve quickly.”
While in Public Integrity, Cole successfully prosecuted Robert Collins, then a U.S. district judge in New Orleans, who was convicted in 1991 of accepting $100,000 in bribes from a drug dealer awaiting sentencing.
Cole also prosecuted former Rep. George Hansen (R-Idaho) for making false statements on his financial disclosure forms. Hansen went to prison for 15 months but his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Cole earned bipartisan praise as outside counsel to the House ethics committee in the Newt Gingrich investigation, which focused on the Georgia Republican’s use of tax-exempt funds. The probe was a factor in Gingrich’s decision to resign from Congress after the November 1998 elections.
More recently, Cole served as monitor to American International Group Inc. as part of a $126 million settlement reached in November 2004 between AIG, the Justice Department and the SEC.
The Wall Street Journal reported in April 2009 that AIG had paid Cole and his firm $20 million to oversee business practices at the insurer.
Cole would replace Gary Grindler, who has served as acting Deputy Attorney General since Ogden’s departure.
Additional reporting by Joe Palazzolo.
This post has been updated since it was first posted.