Deputy Attorney General James Cole was confirmed on Tuesday by the Senate, mostly along party lines, as Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.’s top deputy - a position he has held since Jan. 3 when he was installed by President Obama in a temporary recess appointment.
His confirmation came in a 55-42 vote with most Republicans holding steady to their belief he was not qualified and challenging his role as an independent consultant to failed insurance industry giant AIG prior to the company’s near-collapse in 2008 and its later government bailout.
Some Republicans also had voiced concern about his stance on terrorism.
His presidential recess appointment would have expired at the end of the current session of Congress and many Republicans were set to continue a filibuster against confirmation in the wake of the administration’s failure to respond to Republican requests for documents on the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearm and Explosive’s (ATF) gun-buying program known as “Fast and Furious.”
Once the administration said it would make the information available, Republicans agreed to a confirmation vote.
One of the major stumbling blocks was a 2002 article Mr. Cole wrote for Legal Times in which he referred to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as “criminal acts of terrorism against a civilian population,” and lumped those attacks in the same vein as “many other devastating crimes” like rape, drug trade, organized crime and child abuse.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the article suggested Mr. Cole favored civilian trials for terror suspects. He said such decisions should be made “on a case-by-case basis, not ruling out military commissions for some.”
“Military tribunals have many advantages to civilian criminal courts and are better equipped to deal with dangerous terrorists and classified evidence while preserving due process,” Mr. Grassley said. “I’m troubled that Mr. Cole does not appear to share this belief.”
Mr. Grassley also said he had “concerns” about Mr. Cole’s abilities based on his performance as an independent consultant tasked with overseeing AIG. He said there were “serious questions raised” about Mr. Cole’s independence and that he appeared to have a “level of deference to AIG management one would not expect to see from someone tasked as an ‘independent’ monitor.”
Others decried the confirmation process, including Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, who called the delay “extensive and unnecessary.” He said he could not recall a time “when the Justice Department and the country were deprived of such critical appointees.”
American Constitution Society (ACS) Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson said the Cole vote was “emblematic of a confirmations process that has seriously gone awry.
“The unprecedented delays in the confirmation process are harming the effectiveness of our courts to dispense justice and the president’s ability to carry out national security responsibilities,” she said.
Mr. Cole was among three top-ranking Justice Department officials who were confirmed. Also getting the Senate’s approval were Lisa Monaco as assistant attorney general for national security and Virginia Seitz as assistant attorney general of the Office of Legal Counsel.
“I am pleased the Senate moved to confirm Jim, Lisa and Virginia, following their appointments by President Obama,” Mr. Holder said. “I’m confident they will provide invaluable leadership to the department, and will play a critical role in protecting the American people, ensuring the fairness and integrity of our financial markets and restoring the traditional missions of the department.”
Ms. Monaco served as the principal associate deputy attorney general, where she was the primary adviser on criminal, national security and civil matters. Ms. Seitz worked as a partner in Sidley Austin LLP’s Washington office, where she focused on appellate litigation before the federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court.