ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe and Jake Tapper report:
Senate Republicans tonight blocked the Obama administration’s pick to be deputy attorney general, James Cole.
Cole’s nomination to become the second-in-command to Eric Holder at the Justice Department failed to overcome the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, going down to defeat 50-40. The only Republican to support Cole was Indiana’s Dick Lugar. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed his vote to no to allow him to bring up the nomination again at a later date.
Frustrated Democrats quickly noted that the current terror threat – in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death – demands a complete national security team. The timing, Democrats said, makes the GOP’s historic filibuster the “wrong filibuster at the wrong time.”
“Experts and the American people believe that we are now facing a heightened terrorism threat in the wake of the raid upon Osama bin Laden’s compound. Our success in protecting our nation depends on the ability of the president to rely on his national security team. Jim Cole is a key member of that team, with a well-deserved reputation for toughness, fairness, and integrity. He has demonstrated the leadership skills and clear-eyed focus on the mission that we need against al Qaeda,” said Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy.
“This is the wrong filibuster at the wrong time, against a nominee endorsed by former Republican Sen. Jack Danforth and other Republican officials,” Leahy added. “For the first time in history, a nominee to serve as the deputy attorney general – a key national security position – is facing a partisan filibuster.”
Reid contended that “Republicans are blocking us from confirming the man who signs the warrants they need to hunt down terrorists.
“This is not the time to play partisan games with our nation’s safety,” Reid argued.
But the GOP opposition to Cole was steadfast. The top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, raised concerns about Cole’s time as an independent consultant to insurance giant AIG, as well as Cole’s views on combating terrorism.
“In particular, I’m seriously concerned about Mr. Cole’s views on national security and terrorism,” Grassley said. “Back in 2002, Mr. Cole was the author of an opinion piece in the Legal Times. In that piece, he stated, 'For all the rhetoric about war, the Sept. 11 attacks were criminal acts of terrorism against a civilian population, much like the terrorist acts of Timothy McVeigh in blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City, or of Omar Abdel-Rahman in the first effort to blow up the World Trade Center. The criminals responsible for these horrible acts were successfully tried and convicted under our criminal justice system, without the need for special procedures that altered traditional due process rights.'
“From the opinion piece and his responses to our inquiries, it appears that if given a choice of prosecuting high ranking terrorists in civilian courts or military commissions, Mr. Cole would likely favor civilian courts based upon his longstanding belief in the role the Attorney General plays in protecting the principles of the criminal justice system,” Grassley said. “Absent a clear statement from Mr. Cole about what factors would warrant selecting a civilian or a military forum, it is hard to look at his entire record of past opinions, his testimony, and responses to our questions and reach a different conclusion.”
Grassley added that Cole was a recess appointment by President Obama, another issue that fueled Republican opposition. In addition, the Iowa lawmaker is currently embroiled in a dispute with the administration over whistleblower allegations at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives related to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
The Obama administration responded to tonight’s Senate vote by saying it is “confident” he will be confirmed, but “disappointed” in tonight’s vote.
"Although there is bipartisan support for Deputy Attorney General James Cole, we are disappointed that the Senate failed to confirm him along largely partisan lines today,” said White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield. “We are confident that he will ultimately be confirmed.”
“Cole is a former Department of Justice prosecutor who has worked under three presidents and five attorneys general – both Democrats and Republicans – and he has done an exceptional job serving the American people as deputy attorney general since his recess appointment last December,” Bedingfield said. “The deputy attorney general plays a critical role in all national security, law enforcement and intelligence operations at the Department of Justice and we encourage the Senate to confirm James Cole as quickly as possible."
- Matthew Jaffe and Jake Tapper