Eric H. Holder Jr.’s confirmation as attorney general is speeding toward approval thanks in part to his private assurances to a key Republican senator that he does not intend to prosecute intelligence agency interrogators for their actions during the prior administration.
The assurances, reported by Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, to The Washington Times on Wednesday, went beyond Mr. Holder’s earlier public testimony in which he said he could not prejudge his actions regarding cases he had not seen.
“I believe [Mr. Holder] will look forward to keep the nation safe and not look backwards to prosecute intelligence operators who were fighting terror and kept our country safe since 9/11,” Mr. Bond said in the interview.
However, an aide to Mr. Holder who requested anonymity because the nominee has not been confirmed, disputed this version of events. “Eric Holder has not made any commitments about who would or would not be prosecuted,” the aide said. “He explained his position to Senator Bond as he did in the public hearing and in his responses to written questions.”
Still, Mr. Holder’s private comments to Mr. Bond were important to moving his nomination forward. Mr. Bond was strongly considering blocking Mr. Holder’s confirmation based on questions arising from some of Mr. Holder’s public statements, a senior aide to Mr. Bond said.
But after meeting with Mr. Holder twice over the past week and having received assurances that he was not intent on pursuing intelligence officials who acted in good faith with proper authorization in the conduct of interrogations, Mr. Bond decided to support the nominee, the aide added.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 17-2 to favorably recommend Mr. Holder, 58, for the post. The full Senate is expected to confirm Mr. Holder soon as the nation’s first black attorney general.
The full Senate continued to fill out President Obama’s national security team Wednesday, confirming by voice vote retired Adm. Dennis Blair to be director of national intelligence.
Mr. Blair last Thursday hinted strongly that he would forgo dealing with intelligence community interrogators through the courts.
During his confirmation hearings Mr. Blair said he did not intend to reopen those cases of those officers who acted within their duties, in response to a question about water-boarding from Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat. The Bush administration said the practice, widely denounced as torture, was used on three individuals, including 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Mr. Blair said, I’m hesitating to set a standard here which will put in jeopardy some of the dedicated intelligence officers who checked to see that what they were doing was legal and then did what they were told to do.
Also Wednesday, the ACLU announced that it would seek the declassification of some 41 memos from the Bush administrations Office of Legal Counsel dealing with surveillance and interrogation policies. These documents have been sought by some Democrats in Congress.
ACLU legislative director, Caroline Fredrickson, said the disclosure of the memos could force the Justice Department to begin investigations into some Bush-era policymakers.
As a result of this flurry of activity, the exact content of the conversation between Mr. Bond and Mr. Holder is important to partisans on both sides of the aisle.