In April, Dawn Johnsen withdrew from consideration to be the next Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The progressive community had applauded Johnsen as one of President Obama’s best nominees, but Republicans ended up blocking her nomination twice. In a Washington Post op-ed last week, Johnsen suggested that the reason the GOP opposed her was simply that she opposed torture:
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.
Speaking to the American Constitution Society’s National Convention yesterday, Johnsen used her first public appearance since her unsuccessful nomination to advise progressives to nevertheless stay true to their principles:
Just after my withdrawal, the New York Times wrote a very positive editorial about why I should have been confirmed. But the editorial concluded by decrying a potential chilling lesson of my ill treatment for people considering government service: “Don’t stand on principle and certainly, don’t speak out in public.” … I want to make clear, that is not the lesson I want anyone to draw from my experience.
My biography should hardly be used as an example of why we should not stand on principle or speak out in public. First of all, being willing to stand on principle and fight for liberties that were at times controversial has not hurt me professionally — quite the opposite. … Standing up for the right to privacy did not prevent a past administration from having me serve as acting Assistant Attorney General and running OLC and continuing to fight for the rule of law over the last decade did not prevent a new president from choosing me to return to head OLC. Nor did it deter a majority of the Senate from supporting me. … My message could not be more clear or more simple: I have no regrets.
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Johnsen added that trying to build a record that is so boring that Republicans won’t attack you is a futile endeavor. “In the current climate, even if you attempt a crass political calculus about how to live your life, you may as well say what think, because they can always find a footnote to twist and distort in a twenty year old brief. In my case, it was footnote 23.”
Also at the conference, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) acknowledged Johnsen, saying that she “should be the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. What Republicans have done to keep you from doing that important job is flat out wrong.” He also joked to audience members, “Look to your left. Look to your right. Odds are, at least one of the three of you will someday be filibustered by Senate Republicans.”