Vanishing Dawn: Nominee for OLC Withdrawals

Dawn Johnsen, the president’s nominated head for the Office of Legal Counsel, has withdrawn after more than a year of delayed action on her confirmation.

Johnsen’s withdrawal is another blow for civil libertarians who saw her as an ally in an Administration that has adopted many Bush terrorism policies. Democrats like Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) expressed concern over Johnsen’s belief that torture is a war crime and there should have been investigations of potential crimes in the Bush Administration.

Thus, with Democrats in charge of the Senate, a brilliant scholar has been blocked because she had the audacity to speak out against torture and to demand that we fulfill our treaty obligations. In the meantime, Solicitor General Elena Kagan who supports the Bush policies is a candidate for the Supreme Court.

Obviously, if Obama cared deeply about the issue or this nominee, there would have been a confirmation in this case. For many liberals, there appears to be a sign up in this Administration and in the Democrat-controlled Congress warning “Civil Libertarians Need Not Apply.”

This is a disgraceful conclusion for this country, which would have benefitted greatly from Johnsen’s confirmation.

For the full story, click here.

12 thoughts on “Vanishing Dawn: Nominee for OLC Withdrawals”

  1. The following is an excerpt from a video/transcript of Democracy Now regarding Dawn Johnsen from Greenwald’s perspective. To me, this illustrates more of Mr. Obama’s deceptiveness regarding the torture issue.


    “GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. She was such an opponent of what Bush and Cheney were doing, not just legalistically, but she was arguing that it ought to provoke much more outrage among the citizenry than it was. And she especially was vehement about the fact that whoever succeeded George Bush could not possibly take the position that we should just move on from those crimes, that instead we have to have full disclosure, allow courts to adjudicate whether or not what was done was illegal, in order to restore national honor. And so, she was really, for Washington, a very outspoken advocate of the rule of law and of the idea that what Bush and Cheney did was not just wrong, but radical and extremist and dangerous and tyrannical.

    And what’s interesting is, is that when she was appointed, she seemed like a natural choice for Obama, because candidate Obama echoed many of those same themes. But as the Obama administration went on and it became apparent that what candidate Obama said bore very little resemblance to what President Obama was actually doing—he wasn’t just—he wasn’t repudiating Bush-Cheney executive power theories, he was embracing them—it became clear that the Obama administration would have a very difficult time having someone like Dawn Johnsen head an office like the Office of Legal Counsel.

    And even though they had the votes throughout much of 2009, when they had sixty Democratic votes in the Senate, plus Senator Richard Lugar, the GOP senator from Indiana, her home state, who also said he would vote for her nomination, they never brought her up for a vote. They let her linger. And they never did anything in order to secure her confirmation. And finally, she withdrew.

    And the reason it’s so significant is because it means that somebody who has her views, that the rule of law actually matters, that when presidents break the law we have to have accountability and not say, ‘Well, we just need to move on,’ the way that President Obama has done, it basically means that somebody like that can’t be confirmed to an important office and that the Obama administration doesn’t want somebody like that in a position of influence and authority. And I think it’s quite a revealing moment.”

    End Quote

  2. Why Obama Backed Down on an Embattled Nominee
    By Theo Emery / Washington Wednesday, Apr. 14, 2010

    Read more:,8599,1981836,00.html?xid=huffpo-direct#ixzz0l6XK6cr8


    “And a recess appointment, which some liberals urged, was out of the question, according to the White House official. Such an appointment sidestepping an up-or-down floor vote would have made Johnsen’s goal to depoliticize the Office of Legal Counsel impossible “and would have led to partisan debates over its legal opinions regardless of their quality,” the official says.”

    End Quote

    Who cares about any partisan debates. Ms. Johnsen’s legal opinions would have stood or failed on their own merit. Obama displayed a large measure of cowardice by not using a recess appointment in this instance. He was clearly justified; however, given his additional cowardice on the torture issue, I think I understand what happened here.

  3. Speaking of Vanishing

    Reading the story about President Obama breaking tradition and ditching the presidential press pool over the weekend to watch one of his daughter’s soccer games, it appears harmless, right? Not so. It is rather disturbing when you dissect it. So let’s do just that. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the press pool was to assemble at 11:30AM.

    However, Time reported:

    The president left the White House at approximately 9:20 to attend one of his daughter’s soccer games at 40th and Chesapeake NW. A pool was hastily called at around 9:35 and drove north at 9:43 to catch the president before the game ended. We didn’t make it. The President returned to the White House at 10:17. The pool returned at 10:30. We now return you to your regularly scheduled pool call time.

    Seems simple enough. But the story has several problems. The first one is a biggie in that there were no scheduled soccer games for Sidwell Friends April 10, as evidenced here. The second is that the area reported that the game was played at appears to be one of high crime, as documented here and here. Additionally, this is a picture of the field via Google Maps, where Obama went to watch the game.

  4. I am very disappointed in President Obama’s failure to secure Ms. Johnsen’s appointment and like a true, foolish, optimist I’d like to think it is because he wants her on SCOTUS … I know, I know …. if he couldn’t get her for OLC …… where Obama is concerned I will do as Mike S suggested.

  5. Maybe Dawn was given the option of a recess appointment for less than two years and turned it down.

  6. Becoming blackballed occurs when a learned person speaks facts as Mr. Johnsen did in this video. She had 5 years of OLC experience and by all measures was highly qualified for the OLC leadership position. I simply do not understand how our democracy can continue to function or survive with the prevailing nonsensical ideological divisiveness.

    Dawn Johnsen on the role of the Office of Legal Counsel

  7. Quoted from the linked article:

    “A filibuster, in the end, was likely sustainable. Faced with this calculus, the White House chose not to appoint Johnsen during Senate recess, which would have circumvented a likely filibuster but would have kept her in the position for less than two years.”

  8. The administration could have moved more forcefully on this, but I lay most of the blame at the feet of Senator Nelson. His hang up on her nomination on such an irrelevant issue as her past work for NARAL is beyond reproach.

    Once again the Senate fails to do its job.

  9. From this Republican’s viewpoint, the treatment of Ms. Johnsen demonstrates that honest, decent, principled counsels are a threat to the status quo within Washington. This ‘betrayal’ illustrates Mr. Obama’s true colors once juxtaposed amongst his many other errant decisions.

  10. Shameful. Her withdrawal was inevitable after she was skipped over for a recess appointment. She’s my second choice for SCOTUS. Time to move Marty Lederman up to head OLC.

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