White House Insists on Confirmation of Torture Memo Author

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It’s starting to seem all of a piece.

Yesterday, administration officials publicly acknowledged that CIA agents, with Justice Department authorization, had waterboarded three detainees. And the administration is eager to prevent that authorization from being threatened. According to Senate Dems, the White House has refused to strike a deal on pending nominees until the Senate deals with the Justice Department official who’s authorized the use of enhanced interrogation techniques including waterboarding.

For more than three years, Steven Bradbury has been the acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel, the crucial Justice Department office that has the power to issue “advance pardons,” as former OLC head Jack Goldsmith put it. But Senate Democrats, because of Bradbury’s role in approving the warrantless wiretapping program and enhanced interrogation techniques that include waterboarding, have opposed White House efforts to have him confirmed and remove his acting status.

That hasn’t kept him from the job, however. It is, after all, a position that is supposed to require Senate confirmation. While Democrats, especially Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) have held firm, Bradbury has simply acted as the head of OLC. The Dems say that the administration has broken the law to keep him in the spot.Dems have returned Bradbury’s nomination four times, and over and over again, the White House has renominated him, most recently last month. And today Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Durbin, the Senate whip, revealed that, in negotiations with the White House late last year before the Christmas holiday, the President refused to strike a deal on nominees unless Reid allowed him to recess appoint Bradbury. Reid said he’d offered to confirm 84 of the pending nominees, but the White House said no dice. From Reid’s remarks on the floor earlier today:

He said that unless I would agree to allow him to recess appoint Steven Bradbury, he wouldn’t make a deal – he didn’t care if that meant no one got confirmed. He was willing to forgo the 84-plus nominees and the offers of recess appointments if he couldn’t install Mr. Bradbury.

On a conference call with journalists earlier this afternoon, Durbin said that White House chief of staff Josh Bolten has made it clear that until Bradbury is approved, no deal will be cut on nominees.

The White House apparently plans a kind of public relations push on the set of unconfirmed nominees, with the president himself expected to speak tomorrow. Today in the White House press briefing, spokesman Tony Fratto claimed that it was Senate Dems who were causing the problem: “It seems to me that the Senate only cares about one nominee, because they are willing to not fill over 200 positions in the federal government over the one position that they claim to have a problem with.” (In the call, Durbin said he had no idea where Fratto got the 200 number from.)

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the administration’s all-or-nothing stance on Bradbury “the most bogus issue they’ve found yet.”