Republican senator says Obama nominee promised Bush officials wouldn't be prosecuted for torture
Ron Brynaert
Published: Wednesday January 28, 2009

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Update at bottom: Huffington Post reports Holder aide dismisses Senator's claims

A Republican senator says that President Barack Obama's attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, privately offered assurances that no Bush administration officials would be prosecuted for torture if he was confirmed.

The claim was printed Wednesday in a conservative-leaning Washington, D.C. newspaper.

"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 paper. "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."

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 Sens. Whitehouse and Leahy "took the opportunity to scold [Sens.] 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."

On Friday, after privately meeting with the attorney general nominee, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) told the Philadelphia Inquirer that regarding Cornyn's concern about prosecution of those engaged in interrogation, Holder "did say it would depend on the specific facts of the case."

Specter added that Holder said that there would have to be a "'reliable and authoritative' Justice Department opinion authorizing the actions taken," the Inquirer reported.

Liberals skeptical of source, suspect spin, but won't dismiss

Prominent liberal bloggers and journalists aren't sure what to make of the story published by a news organization many dismiss as "Moonie-controlled," since it was started by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon. Nor do they trust Bond's version of the meeting with Holder.

At Talking Points Memo, Justin Elliott argues that the Washington Times' paraphrasing of Bond's remarks "are not quite so clear cut."

"Holder said at his confirmation hearing two weeks ago that 'waterboarding is torture,'" Elliott writes. "And while President Obama has voiced a preference for looking 'forward as opposed to looking backwards' when it comes to potential prosecutions, Holder's unequivocal statement on waterboarding raised the possibility that a full-scale investigation is required."

Salon's Glenn Greenwald writes, "This story depends upon the credibility of both The Washington Times and Sen. Bond, so who knows if it's really true, but would anyone be surprised if it were true?"

Emptywheel's take wasn't dissimilar to Greenwald's, as both leading liberal internet voices have grown more skeptical that any meaningful prosecutions over torture approval by Bush officials will ever commence.

"Mind you, I'm not holding my breath for any big prosecutions from the Obama administration, given his repeated calls to move forward," Emptywheel writes. "That said, I suspect Kit Bond is spinning Holder's clear statements with regard to those who implemented Bush's policies into statements about those who crafted Bush's policies."

Late Wednesday afternoon, in an update to his Washington Times exclusive, Lake added a response by the ACLU which calls Bond's account into question, and hopes that the Obama administration will soon offer "clarification."

"Kit Bond is not stating this in the way that Mr. Holder stated it to him." Caroline Fredrickson, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the paper. "We are hoping there will be a clarification. It would be extraordinary if our top prosecutor, before taking office, would have predetermined whether or not to pursue certain cases because of political pressure."

Report: Holder aide denies senator's claims

Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports that an aide to Holder is denying Sen. Bond's claims

"Eric Holder has not made any commitments about who would or would not be prosecuted," the aide told Huffington Post's Sam Stein. "He explained his position to Senator Bond as he did in the public hearing and in responses to written questions."

Stein adds that the Washington Times "report caused a stir on the Hill, where Democrats were left wondering whether Holder had privately placated Republican concerns that he would investigate Bush administration officials involved in interrogations."

More on Holder confirmation hearing at this link.