The Senate returned after a two-week recess Monday night. As members gathered in the chamber for a long series of votes, the conversation on the floor turned to federal judge Jay Bybee, a Democratic senator told the Huffington Post.
The issue at question: Should a man who was a principal author of Bush administration memos that authorized torture be allowed to continue to serve his lifetime appointment to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals? Or should he be impeached?
Impeachment begins in the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the committee, got the ball rolling Monday, calling for his impeachment.
Even if impeachment moves through the House, it'll still need GOP support in the Senate to get the required two-thirds. Following the discussion on the Senate floor Monday, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a respected senior Republican on that chamber's judiciary committee, told the Huffington Post he was strongly opposed to impeachment.
"Bybee's one of the most honorable people you'll ever meet," said Hatch. "He is a qualified and very honorable federal judge who was one of the supervisors down there and who, I guess, signed off on some of the opinions over which there's controversy both ways. Some think those opinions were accurate and responsible. Of course, the other side believes they were not."
The memos authorized the CIA to waterboard detainees, slam them into a wall, hit them, lock them in small boxes with insects and deprive them of sleep for up to 11 days.
"Frankly, I do believe that the memoranda could have been written differently, but for the most part, the memoranda were accurate. I think it's blown out of proportion through politics and I think that's one reason the Obama administration and the attorney general have elected not to prosecute anybody. These decisions were made in good faith at a time when our country was in dire jeopardy and could have had even more hateful catastrophes than we had," said Hatch.
If the memo controversy reflects a mere difference of legal judgment, then Bybee did not commit a high crime or misdemeanor, which is the necessary offense for impeachment. Nadler insists that he committed a crime because he had to have known that the behavior he was authorizing was torture and that his memo was nothing more than an attempt at legal cover.
Hatch, however, said that Democrats are looking to score political points by tarnishing Bybee.
"I think those who want to make a big stink out of this are playing politics at every turn and it's ridiculous. I do not want to have our people who protect us intimidated and afraid to stand up and protect us when the time comes. And it's very offensive when people try to score political points against honorable public servants who were trying to do their best," he said.
Hatch said that he has known Bybee for a long time both socially and professionally and is offended by the attacks against him. "Some of these people around here will play politics on anything. They'll embarrass people for political advantage," he said.