Republicans Block Deputy Attorney General Nomination

Senate Republicans successfully filibustered the nomination of Washington attorney James Cole to the position of Deputy Attorney General on Monday.  Cole remains in position as the “temporary” DAG until his recess appointment expires at the end of the current Congress, or he achieves confirmation in a subsequent vote.

The Deputy Attorney General position is an important part of the Justice Department, covering a lot of the nuts-and-bolts operations.  As disappointed Presidential spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield put it, while urging Cole’s confirmation, “The deputy attorney general plays a critical role in all national security, law enforcement and intelligence operations at the Department of Justice.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described the DAG as “the man who signs the warrants [law enforcement] needs to hunt down terrorists.”  Basically, if the Department of Justice was the Battlestar Galactica, then Eric Holder would be Commander Adama, while Jim Cole would be Colonel Tigh, except he doesn’t have an eyepatch, is not an alcoholic, and probably is not a Cylon.

Senate Democrats hammered their Republican colleagues for blocking the Cole nomination.  Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called it “the wrong filibuster at the wrong time.”  He touted Cole’s “well-deserved reputation for toughness, fairness, and integrity.”  Harry Reid added, “This is not the time to play partisan games with our nation’s safety.”  They pointed out that Cole is already serving in his post as a “temporary” recess appointment, and will be there for some time to come.

The Republicans must have known they’d take some political damage from stopping this nomination, especially so soon after President Obama courageously killed Osama bin Laden, with the assistance of some Navy SEALs.  And yet, all but one of them – Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana – held together for the filibuster.  What made them so determined to stop this appointment?

There are two big arguments against James Cole.  One is that he worked as an independent monitor to AIG before its 2008 collapse, making him one of many Washington insiders with bailout blood on his hands.  A lot of funny things were happening at AIG before it went down, and Cole’s job was supposed to involve the prevention of fraud and dicey accounting practices.  Media reports routinely describe Cole as “consultant” to AIG, but he was actually a watchdog, reporting to the Justice Department and the SEC.  He became the most dramatic example of a dog that didn’t bark since Sherlock Holmes investigated the disappearance of Silver Blaze.

The more pressing problem with Cole, and the one that probably stiffened so many Republican spines, is his stance on terrorism.  He wrote an infamous op-ed for the Legal Times on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in which he made it crystal clear that he sees terrorism as a criminal matter, and supports the prosecution of terrorists in civilian courts – a position even President Obama has backed away from, to the unmistakable sorrow of Attorney General Holder. 

Democrats have been trying mightily to spin Cole’s position, but there is no way to spin the passage below, in which he sharply criticizes the far tougher stance of Attorney General John Aschroft, after mockingly comparing Ashcroft to a military general:

“But the attorney general is not a member of the military fighting a war–he is a prosecutor fighting crime. For all the rhetoric about war, the Sept. 11 attacks were criminal acts of terrorism against a civilian population, much like the terrorist acts of Timothy McVeigh in blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City, or of Omar Abdel-Rahman in the first effort to blow up the World Trade Center. The criminals responsible for these horrible acts were successfully tried and convicted under our criminal justice system, without the need for special procedures that altered traditional due process rights.

“Our country has faced many forms of devastating crime, including the scourge of the drug trade, the reign of organized crime, and countless acts of rape, child abuse, and murder. The acts of Sept. 11 were horrible, but so are these other things.

“One arguable difference between those crimes and the tragedies of Sept. 11 is that foreign organizations, possibly even foreign governments, were involved in the planning, funding, and carrying out of the Sept. 11 attacks. But we have never treated such influences as a basis for ignoring the core constitutional protections ingrained in our criminal justice system. The “war on drugs”–a longer-term and far more devastating disaster for our country in terms of the number of affected people–has been facilitated by foreign organizations and governments. Yet, even after Panamanian President Manuel Noriega was arrested by U.S. military forces in Panama, he was brought to the United States, tried in the federal courts, and had full access to counsel, a trial by jury, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to present his own defense.”

It remains curious that the President who had absolutely no interest in dragging Osama bin Laden back to America, to grant him the “core Constitutional protections ingrained in our justice system,” is so insistent on having Cole in his Justice Department.  What firm and rational standard shall we use to decide which terrorists end up in the dock along with drug dealers and rapists… and which ones get shot in the face and fed to the sharks?  Will it always be a matter of political expediency for the President, as the sheer madness of putting a bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian courts over-rules his dangerous ideology?

We don’t need this man anywhere near the War on Terror.  Removing James Cole, and his stonewalling superior Eric Holder, from the DOJ entirely might have to await the end of the current Congress, and the election of a new President.  Meanwhile, there is no reason for anyone with a lick of common sense to sign their name on Cole’s official confirmation.