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Obama pick for Justice post withdraws

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DEVLIN BARRETT | April 9, 2010 05:48 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel has withdrawn her bid for confirmation, after several Republicans objected to her criticism of the Bush administration's terrorist interrogation policies.

Dawn Johnsen's withdrawal – a setback for the Obama administration – was announced late Friday by the White House on a day the capital's legal and political elites were absorbed in the news that Justice John Paul Stevens would retire from the Supreme Court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had recommended Johnsen's confirmation on party-line votes. But several Republicans objected to her sharp criticisms of terrorist interrogation policies under President George W. Bush, and the full Senate never voted on her nomination.

The decision about who should lead the little-known office became a political flashpoint because of the controversies surrounding Bush-era interrogations of terror suspects.

During the Bush administration, lawyers at the OLC wrote memos approving interrogation techniques that human rights advocates call torture. Those methods included waterboarding, or simulated drowning.

Lawyers who worked on those legal opinions were investigated for years but ultimately the Justice Department decided their actions were the result of poor judgement, not professional misconduct.

In announcing Johnsen's withdrawal, both she and the White House blamed what they called politically motivated opposition.

"Restoring OLC to its best nonpartisan traditions was my primary objective for my anticipated service in this administration," Johnsen said in a statement. "Unfortunately, my nomination has met with lengthy delays and political opposition that threaten that objective and prevent OLC from functioning at full strength."

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said Obama "believes it is time for the Senate to move beyond politics and allow the Office of Legal Counsel to serve the role it was intended to – to provide impartial legal advice and constitutional analysis to the executive branch."

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Associated Press Writer Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.