"Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pull back last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward. (...)
The Justice Department source confirms to me that Brennan has consistently opposed making public the torture memos—and any other details about the operations of the extraordinary renditions program— but this source suggests that concern about the G.O.P.’s roadblock in the confirmation process is the principle reason that the memos were not released. Republican senators have expressed strong reservations about their promised exposure, expressing alarm that a critique of the memos by Justice’s ethics office (Office of Professional Responsibility) will also be released. “There was no 'direct' threat,” said the source, “but the message was communicated clearly—if the OLC and OPR memoranda are released to the public, there will be war.” This is understood as a threat to filibuster the nominations of Johnsen and Koh. Not only are they among the most prominent academic critics of the torture memoranda, but are also viewed as the strongest advocates for release of the torture memos on Obama’s legal policy team.
A Republican Senate staffer further has confirmed to me that the Johnsen nomination was discussed at the last G.O.P. caucus meeting. Not a single Republican indicated an intention to vote for Dawn Johnsen, while Senator John Cornyn of Texas was described as “gunning for her,” specifically noting publication of the torture memos.
"The President and the Secretary of State are entitled to have who they want as their legal adviser,” Olson said in a phone interview with me.
Olson was sharply dismissive of claims that Koh is too solicitous of international law. While he declined to discuss the specifics of the case against Koh, much of which has been already debunked, he pushed back hard against the broader claim that Koh’s regard for international law is cause for suspicion.
"I have the greatest respect for Harold Koh," Olson said. "He's a brilliant scholar and a man of great integrity."