Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, January 1, 2010 9:54 pm

First, let’s kill all the lawyers honest nominees for the Office of Legal Counsel

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 9:54 pm
Tags: ,

One thing this country badly needed after the torture-justifying escapades and politically motivated criminal prosecutions of the Bush 43 Justice Department was an independent straight-shooter as head of the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

When President Obama nominated Dawn Johnsen for the job, that’s what we thought we’d gotten. Her career included a history of litigating on behalf of civil rights for both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Abortion Rights Action League, as well as a stint as the Office of Legal Counsel’s No. 2 person under President Clinton before leaving government in 1998 to teach law.

No one raised much of a stink about her, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination and sent it to the full Senate on March 19.

How qualified was Johnsen? Don’t take my word for it. Take the words of two prominent Republicans, former Oklahoma Rep. Mickey Edwards and former FBI Director William Sessions, a Reagan appointee: “… her views on the limits of presidential power are precisely what the Constitution envisions and conservatives have long championed.”

Johnsen had been promised an up-or-down vote after the Senate finished with health care for the year and before year-end adjournment. But Congress adjourned for the year without a Senate vote on Dawn Johnsen and without voting to hold her nomination over to the new year, as it did with more than 30 other pending nominations. If she’s going to get the job, Obama must formally renominate her (which means a re-run of committee hearings, among other things).

So why didn’t Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid schedule a vote on Johnsen? My guess is because Obama didn’t want him to. Why didn’t Obama want him to? I don’t know, although given Obama’s apparent willingness to continue some of the lawlessness of the Bush era and utter unwillingness to hold anyone from that era legally accountable, I have to figure he’s afraid Johnsen would end up embarrassing him, keeping him from doing things he wanted to do but were illegal, or both.

So why didn’t Obama just call Johnsen and say, in effect, “Look, I’ve changed my mind; I don’t want you for the position anymore, and I’d like you to withdraw”? Dunno. (Or maybe he did, and Johnsen told him that if he wanted to get rid of her, he was going to have to do it himself.)

Either way, Reid and Obama have humiliated a qualfied nominee who had bipartisan support (at least outside the hothouse of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose vote was party-line). Bmaz at Emptywheel offers additional context that is likely to upset a lot of Obama supporters but which, at this point, should be no surprise:

The White House intentionally left to rot, and then outright killed, their own nominee.

The evidence of this is pretty damning. Dawn Johnsen’s nomination had languished, twisting in the wind, for 280 days as of the time her nomination was killed by Harry Reid, far longer than any other Obama nominee. The only notable recent support for Johnsen from the White House came in a statement by White House Counsel Greg Craig on October 11, 2009, a weak statement saying only that the White House “would not withdraw” her nomination. Craig was subsequently fired and, hilariously, attempted to be scapegoated by Rahm Emanuel for – wait for it – not getting nominations like Johnsen’s confirmed.

A typical Rahm Emanuel backhanded opaque play; blame someone (Craig) interested in governmental transparency for not getting another official who favors openness and transparency (Johnsen) confirmed, and all the while Rahm and Obama are choking off openness and transparency. Use the Johnsen nomination as a bone to the liberals and simultaneously use it as cover to betray them with the opposite of what Dawn Johnsen stands for. A perfect political scam on the liberal base who was so thrilled with the nomination of a honest rule of law advocate for the Constitution like Dawn Johnsen. Liberals should have known better, but that is just not who Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel are.

Moreover, the bleating by Harry Reid and the Obama Administration that it is all the fault of mean old Republican obstructionism simply does not hold water. The Democrats hold a 60 seat caucus block, sufficient to overcome Republican obstruction. Of those, the Main Justice article is quite clear there were only two Democratic problem children, former Republican Arlen Specter and the ever whiny Ben Nelson, who never passes up an opportunity to betray his party. That means there were potentially only 58 Democratic votes for Johnsen’s nomination. But Republican Richard Lugar firmly supported Dawn Johnsen, so that makes 59 votes, only one shy of confirmation.

In addition to Lugar, both Republican Senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, have refused to rule out voting for Johnsen and were being lobbied hard by extremely influential women’s groups and liberal constituents. Both Collins and Snowe have a history of agreeing, when pressured, to allow up or down votes on Presidential nominees, even from Democrats.

Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel had 59 votes in favor of Dawn Johnsen’s nomination, a distinct possibility of picking up Collins, Snowe or both, and are more than aware Arlen Specter needs big help in his reelection campaign in Pennsylvania and that Ben Nelson can always be bought. And despite all of the above, the Obama White House did not ever request Harry Reid to call a vote. The only rational conclusion from this is the Obama White House did not want Dawn Johnsen, their own nominee, to be confirmed.

You don’t have to be a Democrat, or a Republican, to understand the need to have someone running the OLC who really, really believes in the rule of law: When you don’t have that, as we have seen to our shame and regret, your president is no better than Richard II and your country has become a banana republic.

Apparently, that’s just fine with Barack Obama.

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