Dawn Johnsen was uniquely qualified to lead the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel — the office which, under George W. Bush, produced “clearly erroneous” memos justifying the unlawful use of torture. In addition to leading that very same office herself during the Clinton administration, Johnsen spearheaded an effort to establish ten principles which would ensure that OLC never repeats its misguided Bush-era practices. Yet Republicans twice blocked her nomination. In an op-ed in today’s Washington Post, Johnsen suggests that her opposition to torture kept her from being confirmed to lead that office again:
While attention understandably is focused on confirming the president’s Supreme Court nominee, the OLC remains, after six years, without a confirmed leader.
It is long past time to halt the damage caused by the “torture memo” by settling on a bipartisan understanding of the proper role of this critical office and confirming an assistant attorney general committed to that understanding.
There is no simple answer to why my nomination failed. But I have no doubt that the OLC torture memo — and my profoundly negative reaction to it — was a critical factor behind the substantial Republican opposition that sustained a filibuster threat. Paradoxically, prominent Republicans earlier had offered criticisms strikingly similar to my own. A bipartisan acceptance of those criticisms is key to moving forward. The Senate should not confirm anyone who defends that memo as acceptable legal advice.
Recall, Johnsen excoriated the Bush administration’s “torture memos,” writing that “we must regain our ability to feel outrage whenever our government acts lawlessly and devises bogus constitutional arguments for outlandishly expansive presidential power.” Sadly, Johnsen is only one of many exceptionally qualified Obama nominees held hostage by the filibuster and similar obstructionist tactics by the GOP.