Specter: Psych! I’ll Back Holder


It may be time to coin the phrase “pulling a Specter,” because Sen. Arlen Specter (PA), the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, just did it again. After making a huge fuss questioning the independence of Eric Holder, Specter just caved and said he’ll support the attorney general nominee.“I can say with some confidence that there won’t be a successful filibuster,” Specter told reporters at a press conference gathered to share his thoughts on Holder in advance of tomorrow’s Judiciary panel vote on the nominee.

Specter added that the strong recommendations Holder received from former FBI director Louis Freeh and former DoJ No. 2 James Comey were influential in swaying his vote.

“At no time did I challenge Mr. Holder’s integrity,” the Pennsylvania senator concluded. (But he sure came close, according to Holder himself.) “It was a question of judgment.”

Speaking of judgment, Holder also has resolved — to Specter’s satisfaction, at least — the GOP demand that he promise not to prosecute Bush administration intelligence officials who engaged in brutal interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

“The gist of” Holder’s stance on the issue, Specter told me, “is that if you have an authoritative legal opinion, that’s a defense in terms of mens rea, of intent. That’s a broad generalization. I don’t think you can go any further than that until you examine the specific facts of a case.”

“[There may be] an opinion that allows an interrogator to go so far, and the conduct [in question] vastly exceeds that,” Specter added, referring to the 2002 “Bybee memo” on torture that was later repudiated by the Bush DoJ. “It’s really going to be fact-specific.”

It looks like the grown-ups have won. But for the hardest-core GOP senators, the point may never have been to stop Holder’s confirmation — merely to wound the new administration.

Late Update: Thanks to the eagle-eyed reader who sent in Specter’s letter to the editor — printed in this morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer — in which he takes a hard line against Holder. Citing Louis Freeh, no less. What a difference a few hours makes, eh, senator?

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