- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

Holder’s ‘shepherds’

In the preparation for Senate confirmation hearings, Attorney General-nominee Eric H. Holder Jr. may not have done himself any favors Jennifer Rubin writes at pajamasmedia.com.

“Indeed, he’s given fodder to those who claim he places politics about propriety. He will be shepherded through the confirmation process by none other than Ron Weich, chief counsel to Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Sen. Pat Leahy’s chief of staff, Ed Pagano the writer says.

“It is extraordinary that current Senate staffers would work for the executive branch nominee - a fundamental violation of the separation between the branches of government. These aides are employed by and paid by the Senate, which is supposed to be performing its institutional obligation to examine and, if appropriate, confirm the executive branch’s nominees.

“Granted they are of the same party as the incoming administration, but are key aides of the senators - who are supposed to be evaluating the qualifications, character and experience of the nominee - appropriately tasked with double duty to make sure Holder gets through that evaluation unscathed? Do they write and answer the questions for the nominee? And why would they be permitted to do all this on the Senate’s payroll?

“A Capitol Hill insider had this to say: ‘I can’t think of anotherexample of a current Senate staffer facilitating anominee’s confirmation. If the Senate is really conducting an independent review of the nominee, doesn’t this arrangement undermine it? Would you ever let a judge’s legal clerk act as the lawyer for a defendant? That’s why we have conflict of interest restrictions for lawyers.’

“It only adds to irony that it is Holder’s own alleged conflicts of interest which will be at issue in his hearing.”

Unlikely appointee

Barack Obama’s Cabinet choices are understandably getting most media attention, but everyone knows policy is also made by the sub-Cabinet. So we think more public scrutiny should be drawn to Mr. Obama’s choice of Dawn Johnsen to lead one of the executive branch’s most important legal offices. Her appointment makes sense for a President Gulliver, but not for a commander in chief fighting terrorists,” the Wall Street Journal says in an editorial.

”Ms. Johnsen became famous in the left-wing blogosphere as an especially arch critic of the Bush administration’s war on terror. As an Indiana University law professor, she took to the Web with such lawyerly analysis as ‘rogue,’ ‘lawless,’ ‘outrage,’ and that’s the mild stuff. Now she’s been nominated to run the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which interprets the law for the entire executive branch,” the newspaper says.

“One of the OLC’s main duties is to defend the presidency against the inevitable encroachment of the judiciary and Congress on Constitutional authority, executive privilege, war powers, and so forth. Ms. Johnsen knows this, or should, having served as acting OLC head in the Clinton administration between 1997 and 1998. …

“Yet Ms. Johnsen seems to think her job isn’t to defend the presidency but to tie it down with even more legal ropes. She has written that ‘an essential source of constraint is often underappreciated and underestimated: legal advisers within the executive branch.’ And in touting her qualifications, the Obama transition cited her recent law review articles ‘What’s a President to Do?: Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of the Bush Administration’s Abuses’; and ‘Faithfully Executing the Laws: Internal Legal Constraints on Executive Power.’

“In other words, Mr. Obama has nominated as his main executive branch lawyer someone who believes in diminishing the powers of the executive branch. This is akin to naming a conscientious objector as the head of the armed forces, or hiring your wife’s divorce lawyer to handle your side of the settlement too.”

Studying Lincoln

President-elect Barack Obama has been reading Abraham Lincoln’s speeches and inaugural addresses to draw inspiration for his address when he takes the oath of office Jan. 20, reports Christina Bellantoni, White House reporter for The Washington Times.

Mr. Obama, who says he writes the first drafts of his major speeches and then edits them with his speechwriting team, told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview on “This Week” that his nerves have been rattled by studying past inaugurals.

“I have been reading Lincoln. I’m not sure whether that’s been wise because every time you read … that second inaugural, you start getting intimidated, especially because it’s really short,” he said.

“There’s a genius to Lincoln that is not going to be matched. People then point to Kennedy’s inauguration speech. [Ted] Sorenson and Kennedy, together, did an extraordinary job. Some of the others are not as inspiring.”

Mr. Obama said his main goal for the speech is to “try to capture, as best I can, the moment that we are in,” in plain and realistic, but hopeful, terms.

Wrong about Bush

”The postmortems on the presidency of George W. Bush are all wrong,” Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard.

”The liberal line is that Bush dangerously weakened America’s position in the world and rushed to the aid of the rich and powerful as income inequality worsened. That is twaddle. Conservatives - OK, not all of them - have only been a little bit kinder. They give Bush credit for the surge that saved Iraq, but not for much else,” Mr. Barnes says.

“He deserves better. His presidency was far more successful than not. And there’s an aspect of his decision-making that merits special recognition: his courage. Time and time again, Bush did what other presidents, even Ronald Reagan, would not have done and for which he was vilified and abused. That - defiantly doing the right thing - is what distinguished his presidency.

“Bush had 10 great achievements (and maybe more) in his eight years in the White House, starting with his decision in 2001 to jettison the Kyoto global warming treaty so loved by Al Gore, the environmental lobby, elite opinion and Europeans. The treaty was a disaster, with India and China exempted and economic decline the certain result. Everyone knew it. But only Bush said so and acted accordingly.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected]

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