Judiciary Committee okays Holder 17-2
Ron Brynaert
Published: Wednesday January 28, 2009

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Update: GOP senator claims Holder offered assurances on interrogation prosecution; NY Times says 'lopsided' vote means GOP revolt 'fizzled'

After a slight holdup, Obama's pick for Attorney General appears to be on the right track to get confirmed.

"Eric Holder's nomination as the first African-American attorney general has moved to the full Senate with broad bipartisan support," the Associated Press reports.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 17-2 Wednesday to favorably recommend Holder for the job, with only two Republican hold-outs: Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Cornyn "criticized Holder's role in controversial pardons and questioned whether he would protect intelligence agents who participated in harsh interrogations," the Associated Press notes. Holder was also involved in former President Clinton's controversial pardon of Marc Rich, and he had to apologize for not properly vetting it, although some Republicans still think he is not telling the truth about the details.

The New York Times's Caucus blog notes, "The lopsided vote means that an early hope of some Republicans to make the Holder nomination a demonstration of party strength in the face of a Democratically controlled White House and Congress fizzled. The air went out of the effort even before Tuesday when Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican, said he would support Mr. Holderís nomination."

Three weeks ago, the Times reported that the "sharp criticism from Mr. Specter signaled that Republicans have identified Mr. Holder as perhaps the most vulnerable of Mr. Obamaís cabinet choices" and that they seemed "eager to use Mr. Holder to assert their ability to make life uncomfortable for the new administration."

Today, the Times reported that Holder's confirmation "could go to the Senate floor for confirmation as early as Thursday."

During the confirmation hearings, Cornyn was criticized after presenting Holder with an "absurd 'ticking time bomb' hypothetical in which thousands of American lives are at stake," and the only way to stop it would be to waterboard a terror suspect. Holder unequivocally called waterboarding torture beforehand.

Holder told Cornyn that the hypothetical was "fine," but that "the premise that underlies it Iím not willing to accept, and that is that waterboarding is the only way that I could get that information from those people."

"Assume that it was," Cornyn had responded.

Holder laughed then said: "Given the knowledge that I have about other techniques and what Iíve heard from retired admirals and generals and FBI agents, there are other ways in a timely fashion that you can get information out of people that is accurate and will produce useable intelligence. And so itís hard for me to accept or to answer your hypothetical without accepting your premise. And in fact, I donít think I can do that. "

Senator Cornyn had managed to get the confirmation hearing delayed, because he was concerned about investigations into Bush's alleged misdoings related to surveillance and counterterrorism.

"It could well be there will be a request to delay the markup for a week so those questions can be asked and answered," Cornyn said the other week. "Part of my concern relates to his statements at the hearing with regard to torture and what his intentions are toward our intelligence personnel who were operating in good faith based on their understanding of what the law was."

Before the vote, Sen. Russ Feingold (Dem-Wis.) praised Holder for the "two short declarative sentences uttered at his confirmation hearing -- without caveats, without parsing words, without equivocation," which "signaled a new direction for the Department of Justice and a turning of the page in the constitutional history of this country. 'Waterboarding is torture.' 'No one is above the law.'"

"With these simple words, Eric Holder reassured the nation that the Department of Justice will be run by someone who believes in the rule of law and in impartial justice," Feingold added. "It is sad, of course, that this is something remarkable. But that is where the last eight years have left us."

Afterward, one prominent Republican senator explained his vote to confirm.

"When asked whether this country at is at war he said yes," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (Rep-SC). "He indicated the enemy have declared war on this country long before we realized it. He sees the battlefield as the entire globe."

GOP senator claims Holder offered assurances on interrogation prosecution

An exclusive report by the Washington Times quotes a Republican senator who claims that Holder offered assurances regarding prospective interrogation probes.

"Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, a Republican from Missouri and the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in an interview with The Washington Times that he will support Eric H. Holder Jr.'s nomination for Attorney General because Mr. Holder assured him privately that Mr. Obama's Justice Department will not prosecute former Bush officials involved in the interrogations program," Eli Lake writes for the Washington Times.

The report adds, "Sen. Bond also said that Mr. Holder told him in a private meeting Tuesday that he will not strip the telecommunications companies that cooperated with the National Security Agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks of retroactive legal immunity from civil lawsuits--removing another potential sticking point among GOP senators."

"I made it clear that trying to prosecute political leaders would generate a political firestorm the Obama administration doesn't need," Bond told the Washington Times. "I was concerned about previous statements he made and others had made. He gave me assurances that he would not take those steps that would cause major disruptions in our intelligence system or cause political warfare. We don't need that kind of political warfare. He gave me assurances he is looking forward."

Rep. Bond added, "I believe he will look forward to keep the nation safe and not look backwards to prosecute intelligence operators who were fighting terror and kept our country safe since 9-11."

Firedoglake's emptywheel noted that during the hearing, Democratic Senators "Whitehouse and Leahy took the opportunity to scold Cornyn and Specter for trying to make Holder commit to no prosecutions for torture."

"We came perilously close to seeking a prosecutive commitment from an AG candidate on an issue he would have to make a decision on," said Whitehouse, according to emptywheel's liveblogging account. "We don't ask judicial candidates their position on a case, the notion that a person who is a candidate for AG should have to make a prosecutative decision before he has even read the file or before he has even been read into the program at question."

Updates on Bond's claim will continue at this link