The Washington Post published an editorial today in which it praised President Obama’s nominees to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). While the OLC is not an office widely recognized by anyone outside of the beltway, its influence is enormous, and the nominees selected by the president show how serious he is about returning a sense of openness and justice to the department that bears its name.
The OLC under the Bush administration was the source of many of the now-infamous torture memos, which were used to provide legal cover to those who believed that “enhanced interrogation” techniques were crucial to our national security. Dawn Johnsen, who served as acting assistant attorney general in the OLC under President Clinton, was one of the most vocal critics of the transformation of that office under President Bush. Her selection to lead the OLC now shows just how different the new president’s approach will be.
Oddly enough however, some Republicans are using her statements opposing the OLC torture memos and the office’s general tendency towards secrecy as reason to grandstand over her nomination. Interestingly, when the president announced Ms. Johnsen’s nomination, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee -- which plays no role in the confirming of presidential nominees -- said that he had “significant concerns considering her position on the intelligence community’s ability to conduct interrogations and critical, time-sensitive intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks.”
Ms. Johnsen’s confirmation hearing is not scheduled to take place for another month, but considering the stall tactics faced by Eric Holder, President Obama’s choice for attorney general, we aren’t holding our breath that hers will be a smooth one. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on her and other nominees’ hearings.