NEW YORK -- Monday night, Senate Republicans blocked one of the Obama administration's key nominees, ending a long and frustrating wait by James Cole in his quest to be deputy attorney general.
Only one Republican, Indiana's Richard Lugar, supported Cole, whose nomination was defeated when it failed to overcome the chamber's 60-vote threshold. Top Democrats immediately blasted the filibuster, saying that the country's national security was compromised by not having a full team at the Department of Justice, where Cole would have served as Attorney General Eric Holder's number two.
"Our success in protecting our nation depends on the ability of the president to rely on his national security team. Jim Cole is a key member of that team, with a well-deserved reputation for toughness, fairness, and integrity. He has demonstrated the leadership skills and clear-eyed focus on the mission that we need against al Qaeda,” said Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.).
Top Republican senators, including Iowa's Chuck Grassley, have raised concerns about Cole's views on terrorism, citing the longtime lawyer's authorship of pieces in which he argued that the 9/11 terrorists should be tried and convicted under the nation's criminal justice system rather than by military commissions.
And government watchdog groups have criticized Cole's work as an independent monitor at AIG, the insurance giant that had to be bailed out during the financial crisis. During his time at AIG, when his law firm was paid $20 million for its work, the company dangerously ramped up its sale of credit-default swaps (essentially insurance) to investment banks through its AIG-FP division, essentially betting big that the housing market wouldn't collapse.
The Government Accountability Project's International Reform Director, Bea Edwards, has written numerous blog posts about Cole's nomination and his role at AIG. On his watch, "everything went bad at AIG-FP in London," Edwards said. "He had every latitude to insure compliance of AIG with accepted accounting procedures and he abdicated having any oversight of AIG-FP."
"He was our last, great hope -- if he had done his job, maybe he couldn't have stopped the meltdown but at least he would have been able to raise the alarms and get some attention to what was happening," a former AIG employee told The Huffington Post last December, when Senate Republicans blocked an earlier confirmation attempt.
Monday, Leahy dismissed those concerns, citing widespread bipartisan support for Cole in the law enforcement community.
"Mr. Cole’s critics have been wrong to try to blame him for the actions of AIG," Leahy said. "His limited role was as an outside monitor of other corporate functions and there is no evidence showing he did not perform his assignment well. Let us hold those responsible at AIG accountable. Not a single person at AIG has been. There is no basis for making Mr. Cole the scapegoat for the action of AIG. Blame the AIG agents and employees, blame its officers, blame its board, or even criticize the lack of oversight by state and Federal regulators and law enforcement officials if you like. But scapegoating this good man is wrong."