The Inevitable Sacking Of The Dawn Johnsen Nomination

There was never any question but that the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to be head of the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel would be withdrawn. None. Much to the dismay of progressives everywhere who believe in the principles Professor Johnsen has written and stood for, early on in the Obama Administration it was crystal clear Mr. Obama and his Administration had retreated completely from the what has turned out to be empty rhetoric of his campaign and short term in the Senate.

As dday and Sam Stein have already alerted, Professor Johnsen’s nomination has been withdrawn. I want to focus on a later part of Stein’s piece in the Huffington Post, not to pick on Sam who is a fantastic reporter, but to knock back the bullshit meme that is going to be pervasive in the media:

The withdrawal represents a major blow to progressive groups and civil liberties advocates who had pushed for Johnsen to end up in the office that previously housed, among others, John Yoo, the author of the infamous torture memos under George W. Bush.

But the votes, apparently, weren’t there. Johnsen had the support of Sen Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) but was regarded skeptically by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — primarily for her positions on torture and the investigation of previous administration actions. A filibuster, in the end, was likely sustainable. Faced with this calculus, the White House chose not to appoint Johnsen during Senate recess, which would have circumvented a likely filibuster but would have kept her in the position for less than two years.

In a statement accompanying Johnsen’s letter, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said her credentials were “exemplary and her commitment to the rule of law has been proven time and again.”

“After years of politicization of the Office during the previous administration, the President believes it is time for the Senate to move beyond politics and allow the Office of Legal Counsel to serve the role it was intended to – to provide impartial legal advice and constitutional analysis to the executive branch,” LaBolt added. “He will work now to identify a replacement and call on the Senate to move swiftly to confirm that nominee in order to achieve those goals.”

It is indeed a serious blow to progressives; but far more than that, it is a serious blow to the country and its desire to bring common sense, morality and the rule of law back to the tattered United States Department of Justice. No division of the DOJ has more symbolized the rot, moral and legal decay brought on by the Bush/Cheney Administration than the OLC where the sick and despicable opinions of John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steve Bradbury emanated from. This is why Dawn Johnsen was both symbolically and pragmatically so critical and so welcomed. But it was not to be; it was never to be.

But Stein, and the rest of the major media that has had their head in the sand and not been paying attention need to wake up and realize that the failure of the Johnsen nomination is NOT and NEVER WAS about a lack of votes. No, it is completely and unequivocally about the failure of Barack Obama and his Administration to support their own nominee and stand up for the values she proffered which led them to select her in the first place. This is about Obama, not the Senate, not Republicans and not about obstruction. From an earlier post:

If one needed any more confirmation of the stunts Obama and his Administration have been pulling without the strong and principled leadership at the OLC (and there really should be no question after the wholesale adoption of Bush policies on surveillance and torture that are at complete odds with Johnsen’s long-stated beliefs), it came like a ton of bricks with the recent revelation that Obama brazenly used the OLC to retroactively immunize serial and repetitive illegal and unconstitutional violation of Federal wiretapping laws by the FBI and telecom companies.

By the way, we have now seen the OPR Report on the “Torture Memos”; did you know that there has been a parallel OPR investigation going on all along over the OLC illegal warrantless wiretapping memos?? You have to wonder where that report is and how it played into the refusal to support Dawn Johnsen. You also have to wonder why nobody else is asking that question.

I wrote about this previously here and here and demonstrated the point with evidence. Yet no matter what my effort, the point refused to gain traction in the greater media. Will the major media continue to flail with their head in a dark place? You can bet on it.

Here Comes The Judge; Gitmo Military Commissions Redux

It has now been a little over a month since we learned just how far over the due process rule of law cliff the Obama Administration has gone with regard to politicization of the DOJ prosecutorial function in relation to terrorist trials. That striking realization came courtesy of Jane Mayer’s and Josh Gerstein’s respective reports on the Rahm/Obama negotiations with Lindsay Graham to go strictly with military commissions and Eric Holder’s seeming resignation that such may indeed be the case.

There are two new developments that would seem to indicate the Obama Administration is indeed moving toward capitulation to the neocon howlers on the issue of military tribunals over civilian trials. First, from Main Justice comes word that the Graham/Emanuel deal is looking like it is on and Graham has finalized his proposal on terrorist detentions and trials band and he and the administration are circulating it on the hill:

Graham’s proposal comes after weeks of discussion between the South Carolina senator and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. In January, Emanuel and Graham began talks on a deal: Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, would be tried in a military tribunal, in exchange for Graham’s support for a new U.S. detention center to replace Guantanamo Bay. (Graham has warned that his support for closing Gitmo would be affected by a civilian trial for KSM, which he adamantly opposes.) According to an unnamed administration official cited by The Post, those discussions have broadened and Graham now hopes to reach a “grand bargain” that would resolve many outstanding questions concerning terrorist detention.

The White House opposes some of the ideas in Graham’s proposal, such as a separate national security court to try alleged terrorist detainees, according to The Post. But other provisions — including one that would create a standard process for dealing with habeas petitions, where alleged terrorists challenge their status as “unlawful enemy combatants” in U.S. courts — are likely to find support, The Post said.

It is all disquieting enough, but the last part signals a abject willingness by the Obama Administration to have Congress restrict habeas access to courts; I guess they are noticing that real courts keep thinking there is no justification for detention of the people they have salted away for years at Gitmo.

The second piece of news comes vis Mike Isikoff and the Declassified Blog:

The White House may yet be several weeks away from announcing whether it plans to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder and order that the 9/11 conspirators be tried before military commissions rather than in civilian courts. But it’s not hard to figure out which way the wind is blowing.

The Pentagon is set to announce that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has appointed a new chief judicial officer for the Office of Military Commissions, according to three Defense Department sources familiar with the decision. The appointment, which could come as early as Wednesday, paves the way for the Pentagon to begin convening a series of high-profile terror trials before military commissions at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay–the very same Read more

Obama Had 60 Votes For Dawn Johnsen's Confirmation Last Year; Johnsen Stalled Again This Year

3855The Obama Administration’s confounding unwillingness and/or inability to move the nomination of Dawn Johnsen as head of OLC has manifested itself yet again. The renomination of Johnsen was set to be voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, but somehow they just “ran out of time” before they could get to it, even though they found time to muse about a couple of far less significant district court judges and other lesser nominees.* It is a continuing and puzzling pattern of delay and diversion that has kept Dawn Johnsen’s nomination in limbo for better than a year.

I previously wrote about the failure of the Obama Administration to support the Dawn Johnsen nomination, a far less than good faith effort that finally resulted in Johnsen’s nomination being killed by operation of Senate Rule XXXI when they adjourned on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2009. It turns out what I wrote has been borne out and, as lawyers are wont to say, proved up pretty well.

As I will detail below, there is now crystal clear evidence that Barack Obama and Harry Reid had the sixty (60) votes for cloture on the confirmation of Dawn Johnsen all along last year, at least subsequent to July 7, the day Senator Al Franken was sworn in, and despite that fact refused to call a vote and get Johnsen installed in her critical post at OLC. Here is what I wrote immediately following the Christmas Eve death of her nomination:

Moreover, the bleating by Harry Reid and the Obama Administration that it is all the fault of mean old Republican obstructionism simply does not hold water. The Democrats hold a 60 seat caucus block, sufficient to overcome Republican obstruction. Of those, the Main Justice article is quite clear there were only two Democratic problem children, former Republican Arlen Specter and the ever whiny Ben Nelson, who never passes up an opportunity to betray his party. That means there were potentially only 58 Democratic votes for Johnsen’s nomination. But Republican Richard Lugar firmly supported Dawn Johnsen, so that makes 59 votes, only one shy of confirmation.

In addition to Lugar, both Republican Senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, have refused to rule out voting for Johnsen and were being lobbied hard by extremely influential women’s groups and liberal constituents. Both Collins and Snowe have a history of agreeing, when pressured, to allow up or down votes on Presidential nominees, even from Democrats.

Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel had 59 votes in favor of Dawn Johnsen’s nomination, a distinct possibility of picking up Collins, Snowe or both, and are more than aware Arlen Specter needs big help in his reelection campaign in Pennsylvania and that Ben Nelson can always be bought. And despite all of the above, the Obama White House did not ever request Harry Reid to call a vote. The only rational conclusion from this is the Obama White House did not want Dawn Johnsen, their own nominee, to be confirmed.

My calculations on the 60 votes being available were confirmed upon Obama re-nominating Johnsen when it was immediately announced to much ballyhoo that Arlen Specter would be the 60th vote for cloture on the re-nomination; albeit apparently only after Johnsen has been again dragged through the committee process and other vagaries of prolonged confirmation procedure. The TPM report of Specter’s intention to support Johnsen’s confirmation confirms exactly what I stated, Specter was the 60th vote (there were always 58 Dems plus Richard Lugar) and was there all along; all Obama and Harry Reid had to do was call the vote. Read more

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