Specter Still Playing it Coy on Holder Nomination

January 23, 2009 9:10 a.m.
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When last we left the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, John Cornyn (TX) was taking a stand against accountability by insisting that Attorney General nominee Eric Holder promise not to prosecute any intelligence official for possible interrogation abuses at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took a more pragmatic view of Holder’s ability to promise such sweeping immunity before court action on detainee cases is complete. But where is Arlen Specter (PA), Judiciary’s senior Republican, in all of this?Specter met privately with Holder yesterday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and emerged with a heaping dose of equivocation on the nomination.

On Cornyn’s concern about prosecution of those engaged in interrogation, Holder “did say it would depend on the specific facts of the case,” Specter said, including whether there was a “reliable and authoritative” Justice Department opinion authorizing the actions taken. … Specter declined yesterday to say how he would vote on Holder, but he said Wednesday that he would ask the nominee questions in the private meeting “with a view toward getting him confirmed.”

Republicans are sure to put Holder through more of these political paces until the committee’s scheduled vote on Wednesday, but they lack any procedural method to force a further delay. Even if Holder is approved on a party-line vote next week, the GOPers’ only recourse is to place an official hold on the nomination — as Cornyn said he might do — after its approval in committee.

The next move in the chess game, then, would belong to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Either way, however, Holder is set for confirmation; it’s just a question of when.

Late Update: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), a Dem on the judiciary panel, just came out with a statement blasting the GOPers for their Holder gamesmanship.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have asked Eric Holder to make a commitment, before he is even confirmed, that he will not prosecute any Bush Administration officials for their involvement in acts of torture during the last administration.

Anyone familiar with the criminal justice system – especially those with experience as prosecutors or judges – should know that a prosecutor should make no determination about who to prosecute before he or she has all the facts, and particularly not in response to legislative pressure.

After all we have recently been through at the Department of Justice, I would hope and expect that upon calm reflection, no one on our Committee would expect the Attorney General of the United States to make prosecutive decisions based on legislative pressure.

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