By David Ingram
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) today pledged to support Attorney General nominee Eric Holder Jr., saying that the Covington & Burling partner’s record and broad support within the law enforcement community alleviated his concerns about Holder’s independence. The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee also said he was satisfied that Holder would tread carefully in deciding whether to prosecute Bush administration officials involved in the use of harsh interrogation techniques on suspected al-Qaida members.
Specter's endorsement means Holder now has the support of his most vocal critic throughout the confirmation process. "I think that Mr. Holder is entitled to the benefit of the doubt, in the context of the excellent record that he has and those recommendations weighed against the issues that were of concern to me," Specter said.
Last week, the committee’s Republicans invoked their right to delay Holder’s nomination by a week, saying they needed more time to investigate his record. The committee is scheduled to vote on Holder's nomination Wednesday, and a vote by the full Senate could come by the end of the week.
During Holder's Jan. 15 confirmation hearings, he said he believed waterboarding amounted to torture, raising concerns among Republicans that he would seek to prosecute Bush administration officials who were involved in a CIA interrogation program that sanctioned the tactic and others. The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel vouched for the legality of the programs in classified legal opinions, which have since been revoked.
Last Thursday, Holder met with Specter briefly in the senator’s office, and later in his Capitol hideaway. Specter said he and Holder discussed the interrogation issue and the possibility of prosecutions related to the CIA program.
“I got a satisfactory answer. The gist of it is that if you have an authoritative legal opinion, that that is a defense in terms of mens rea or in terms of intent. That's a very broad generalization, and I don't think you can go any further than that until you examine the specific facts of the case and then the conduct is determinative," Specter said.
He went on, "You may have an opinion which allows an interrogator to go so far and perhaps the conduct vastly exceeds that, so that it wouldn't be reasonable to think that was comprehended within the opinion. But I think you had a Department of Justice memorandum in 2002 which was in effect for a time and then later repudiated, so that it's really going to be fact-specific."
In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said he was pleased Specter had resolved his concerns.
“Tomorrow the Committee will move forward to report this historic nomination to the Senate, and I hope the Senate will debate and vote on Mr. Holder’s nomination without further delay," Leahy said.