- - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

President Obama is sidestepping the Senate to directly fill the No. 2 position at the Justice Department and appoint four U.S. ambassadors whose nominations had been stalled or blocked by lawmakers for months.

The White House on Wednesday said Mr. Obama is using a recess appointment to install James Cole as the deputy attorney general and fill envoy posts to Azerbaijan, Syria and NATO allies Turkey and the Czech Republic.

Senators had blocked or refused to consider the confirmations of the nominees for various reasons, including questions about their qualifications. But in the most high-profile case, that of the new envoy to Syria, Robert Ford, a number of senators objected because they believed sending an ambassador to the country would reward it for bad behavior.

The administration had argued that returning an ambassador to Syria after a five-year absence would help persuade the country to change its policies regarding Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and its support for extremist groups. Syria is designated a “state sponsor of terrorism” by the State Department.

President George W. Bush’s administration withdrew a full-time ambassador from Syria in 2005 after terrorism accusations and to protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, killed in a Beirut truck bombing that his supporters blamed on Syria. Syria denied involvement.

The other ambassadors are Matthew Bryza for Azerbaijan, Norman Eisen for the Czech Republic and Francis Ricciardone for Turkey.

Recess appointments are made when the Senate is not in session and last only until the end of the next session of Congress. They are frequently used when Senate confirmation is not possible.

In the nomination fight over Mr. Cole, Democrats in the Senate tried to confirm the former Justice Department official by unanimous consent but Republicans objected, expressing concerns about his approach to terrorism cases and his work for troubled insurer American International Group.

Mr. Cole, a partner at the law firm Bryan Cave LLP since 1995, served as special counsel for the House ethics committee in its 1997 investigation of Speaker Newt Gingrich and was a Justice Department official for 13 years before entering private law practice in Washington. He has been a partner at the law firm Bryan Cave LLP since 1995.

The deputy position has been vacant since February when the previous deputy attorney general, David Ogden, resigned in part because of a rocky relationship with U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

At the Justice Department, Mr. Cole served his last four years as deputy chief of the public integrity section, the same unit where Mr. Holder once worked. Mr. Cole tried a number of high-profile cases, including prosecutions of a member of Congress and a federal judge.

Mr. Cole’s appointment comes as the caseload at the Justice Department has grown significantly this year, particularly in the terrorism area. He is expected to be able to serve until the end of 2011, or longer if the Senate votes to confirm him.

Prosecutors have been trying to move forward with trials of terrorism suspects held at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and are also pursuing a lawsuit against BP PLC and other companies for the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

As for the envoys, Mr. Bryza, a career diplomat, was opposed by some in the Armenian-American community because of comments he made in his previous position as deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs while trying to negotiate an end to the Nargorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The nomination of Mr. Ricciardone, another career diplomat who served as ambassador to Egypt during the Bush administration, had been held up by outgoing Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, who had concerns about his work in promoting democracy while he was stationed in Cairo.

The nomination of Mr. Eisen, a lawyer who has worked in the Obama White House on ethics and reform, was being held up by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, who said the nominee had made misrepresentations to Congress about the firing of a federal official.

From combined dispatches

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