WASHINGTON, D.C. - By a vote of 17-2, the Senate Judiciary Committee today voted to recommend Eric H. Holder, Jr. to the full Senate as the next Attorney General of the United States. The Senate is expected to vote to approve Holder tomorrow.
Holder's confirmation had been delayed for one week by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), allegedly over concerns that Holder was unwilling to "demonstrate a full commitment to fighting terrorism and his role in facilitating the pardon eight years ago of Marc Rich, a financier who fled the country to avoid prosecution."
However, despite Cornyn's claim, his questioning of Holder during his confirmation hearing revealed what was likely Cornyn's paramount concern: The prospective prosecution of Bush administration officials who "authorized torture or operatives who carried out the policy."
Indeed, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Cornyn had based his opposition to Holder's nomination moving forward because he wanted Holder to state "what his intentions are toward our intelligence personnel who were operating in good faith based on their understanding of what the law was."
Cornyn's concern was apparently vitiated by Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), who told the conservative Washington Times that Holder had indicated, in a private conversation, that he "is looking forward," which the Times interpreted to mean that the "Justice Department will not prosecute former Bush officials involved in the interrogations program."
"I made it clear that trying to prosecute political leaders would generate a political firestorm the Obama administration doesn't need ," Bond said. "I believe he [Holder] 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."
Even with that assurance, Cornyn and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) voted against confirmation nonetheless.
During his confirmation hearings, however, Holder stated, "Waterboarding is torture," and several prominent political leaders and commentators have called upon Holder to put teeth to that statement once he is in office.
"There is work to be done. There are real threats. There are abuses to be undone and rights that need to be restored. We need to get on with the task of remaking America," stated Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), stopping short of calling directly for prosecutions. "Mr. Holder has demonstrated that he is committed to restoring the rule of law, and, as President Obama said in his inaugural address 'to reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.' ... He will pursue the Justice Department's vital missions with skill, integrity, independence and a commitment to the rule of law."
The L.A. Times' editorial, however, went a bit farther:
"Cornyn is free to endorse torture and to vote against Holder's confirmation in the Judiciary Committee (which is expected to vote today) or in the full Senate. But asking that a prospective attorney general commit in advance to prosecute - or not prosecute - potential defendants crosses an ethical line. Cornyn, a former state Supreme Court justice, should know that. No less than a nominee for the federal courts, a prospective attorney general shouldn't put himself in the position of prejudging cases in exchange for Senate confirmation... A conscientious attorney general will weigh many factors in deciding whether to bring criminal charges. Pleasing a senator who voted to confirm him isn't one of them."