The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee pushed for a quick confirmation of James Cole to the Justice Department’s no. 2 position, as Republicans raised concerns over Cole’s views on the handling of terrorism suspects and his oversight of troubled insurance company American International Group.
“The no. 2 position is vital to our national security and systems of justice,” said Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the panel’s chairman. “I hope that the members of this committee will be fair to the nominee.”
President Barack Obama nominated Cole, a former public corruption prosecutor and longtime friend of Attorney General Eric Holder, to be Deputy Attorney General last month. He would replace acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, who has held the post since David Ogden stepped down in February.
Ranking Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama said he had a discussion with Cole on Monday, which he called very helpful. Holder “needs a strong right arm” in the Deputy Attorney General position, Sessions said.
Sessions said he had concerns about Cole’s work at AIG and about a 2002 opinion piece Cole wrote on the use of civilian trials for terrorism suspects.
At the hearing Tuesday, Cole defended his position on terrorism trials, advocating for an approach that includes both military tribunals and civilian courts.
“We must use all available means to protect our national security, including, where appropriate, military, intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic, and economic tools and authorities,” Cole said in prepared remarks.
Cole said that the military commissions have been improved since he first wrote the 2002 op-ed, which advocated for trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts. He said the op-ed was not intended to look at whether or not the U.S. was at war, but rather how the country should handle such a challenge.
Cole said that whether suspects were tried in military or civilian court, they would be allowed to testify in public, an issue Republicans raised during his hearing
“Those are issues which are going to come up regardless of what forum is chosen at the end of the day,” Cole said.
Cole defended his work on AIG. “The company resisted some of my efforts, but I insisted on tough measures,” Cole said.
Republicans also questioned Cole about the Justice Department’s decision on where to hold the trial of alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Holder announced in November that the trial would be held in a civilian court in New York, but political pressure has made that option less likely.
“At this point, senator, I know that matter is currently under review,” Cole said . “I don’t know all the facts and circumstances that relate to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s prosecution.”
From the Democratic side of the aisle, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked Cole about Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis‘ decision to overrule the finding of the Office for Professional Responsibility in its review of the professional conduct of the authors of the so-called torture memos.
“Certainly it’s a matter that if confirmed I’d be happy to look into,” Cole told Whitehouse.
Cole also faced questions about the closing of Guantanamo Bay.
“What do we do about those detainees that we can’t bring to trial, there’s no place to send them, and we’re going to have to detainee them for a longer period of time?” Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) asked
Cole also garnered praise from Cardin, who worked with Cole in t he 1990s when the prosecutor handled the investigation into then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Cardin said Cole removed politics from the decision and represented the needs of the country.
At the beginning of the hearing, former Missouri Republican Sen. John Danforth testified on Cole’s behalf.
“I’ve known Jim for more than 15 years,” Danforth said. “I have the highest regard for him as a person and as a lawyer. …I have seen no ideological or political bone in his body. He is a person who will call them as he sees them.”
During his testimony, Cole said it was important to get the Justice Department back to the “bread and butter issues.”
Financial fraud has impacted every single American, Cole said. He said that the government will only be successful in deterring fraud when people know there are consequences.
Cole also said he would encourage cooperation between U.S. Attorneys’ offices and Justice Department headquarters.
“A few successes is usually the key to make everybody start to break through the dam and realize that there’s gold to be mined,” Cole said.