The public White House push for confirmation of the nominee for attorney general will be accompanied in coming weeks by a much less-visible effort to get Senate approval of the man who is advising President Bush on the extent of his terrorism-fighting powers.
The top spot in Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has been officially vacant since July 2004, when Jack L. Goldsmith resigned in part over disagreement with the Bush administration’s legal grounds for several assertions of executive power.
Mr. Bush nominated Steven G. Bradbury, Mr. Goldsmith’s deputy, on June 23, 2005, but that appointment since has languished in the Senate. Mr. Bradbury’s nomination passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but a handful of unnamed Democratic senators placed holds on Mr. Bradbury’s nomination at different times, in an attempt to force the Bush administration to turn over information on other matters.
White House officials said that after the attorney general nomination, Mr. Bradbury’s nomination is their next priority this fall, though they have nine major slots at a depleted Justice Department to fill.
“That position is a critical position for the Department of Justice to do their job. We hope the Senate can consider his nomination and move it as quickly as possible,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
The Bush administration, in its effort to fight terrorism, has pushed the envelope in broadly defining the scope of the executive’s power to act during wartime without constraint by the legislative or judicial branches. It relies on OLC for legal approval of surveillance programs, detainee treatment and a host of other issues, many of which are highly classified.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said that Mr. Bradbury, 49, has functioned as head of OLC since Mr. Goldsmith’s departure, but that his confirmation would “lend greater weight to the opinions of the office and will help achieve greater stability in its work and management.”
Former White House lawyer Bradford Berenson, who has worked with Mr. Bradbury over the past few years, said that the acting OLC head has been “on the lead” with issues such as the effort to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the administration’s successful push in 2006 for Congress to approve military commissions.
“For someone who is not confirmed, Steve has been a much stronger leader of that office than most people would have been capable of,” Mr. Berenson said.
The Justice Department declined to make Mr. Bradbury available for an interview, but former colleagues said he is an exceptionally bright and deliberate attorney who would labor to put controversial or difficult issues on solid legal footing, and would not be afraid to deliver bad news to the White House if necessary.
“He’s a lawyer’s lawyer who wrestles to get to the correct legal answer and has had a lot of experience doing that, and his temperament and demeanor is very calm, thoughtful and balanced,” said William P. Barr, attorney general under the first President Bush.
“He’s not an ideologue with some ax to grind,” said Mr. Barr, who observed Mr. Bradbury’s work as a young staff attorney in OLC while he was attorney general.
Mr. Bradbury also was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from 1992 to 1993, and was recruited by former special counsel Kenneth Starr to the Kirkland and Ellis law firm in 1994 to be part of a small group “that Starr recruited to build an appellate practice,” said John Thorne, who also worked at Kirkland.
Mr. Bradbury came back to the Justice Department in 2004 to serve under Mr. Goldsmith.
He’s going to give you his own independent judgment,” Mr. Thorne said. “He’s got a strong moral core and a strong backbone.”