Key Job Changing Hands at Justice, Plus Putting A Wrap On Today’s News And Views
David J. Barron, the acting head of the Justice Department’s powerful Office of Legal Counsel, will step down next month and be replaced by one of his current deputies, Jonathan G. Cedarbaum, the department said Thursday.
Mr. Barron has run the office, which advises the president and executive branch whether proposed actions would be lawful, since January 2009. He is returning to Harvard Law School, which limits tenured professors to two years of leave, and he said in an interview that wants to move back to Massachusetts before the start of the school year because he has three young children.
Much of the work of the Office of Legal Counsel is confidential, but over the past 18 months Mr. Barron has handled a variety of issues including wartime questions like how much involvement with Al Qaeda is necessary to make a terrorism suspect subject to detention without trial and domestic matters like whether stalking and domestic violence laws apply to same-sex couples.
“I don’t think I’ll ever have a better job again,” Mr. Barron said. “If you like the law and you care about these issues, it’s just a tremendous opportunity to be able to have worked here.”
Mr. Barron’s replacement, Mr. Cedarbaum, came to public attention earlier this year after Fox News named him as one of several Justice Department lawyers who had previously advocated for detainees.
Those lawyers had been attacked as the “Al Qaeda Seven” by a group led byLiz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard. The Cheney and Kristol group was in turn accused of McCarthyism by critics from across the political spectrum.
The Fox report characterized Mr. Cedarbaum’s involvement in advocating for detainees as “minor” and “short-lived.” At a partner at the WilmerHale law firm, he was one of several lawyers whose name appeared on a Supreme Court brief in a case involving six Algerian detainees who had been arrested in Bosnia, and who were seeking a right to a habeas-corpus hearing.
Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said that Mr. Cedarbaum is recused from matters arising from one of the Algerian-Bosnian detainees, but is free to deal with detainee legal policy matters more generally.
The Office of Legal Counsel was once obscure, but it drew attention during the Bush administration after the disclosure of secret memorandums in which politically appointed lawyers had asserted that the president, as commander-in-chief, could lawfully override statutes and treaties limiting torture and domestic surveillance.
Mr. Barron was among a group of Clinton administration veterans of the office who criticized those memorandums and proposed a set of operating principles they said would restore the office’s traditional independence and professionalism.
That effort was organized by Dawn Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor, whom Mr. Obama nominated to lead the office. She in turn selected Mr. Barron to be her principal deputy. But when Ms. Johnsen’s nomination got bogged down and eventually failed, Mr. Barron found himself unexpectedly running the agency.
Mr. Barron said that part of his task was to re-establish a sense of normalcy following the intense controversy it had engendered in recent years. To accomplish that, he said, he insisted on a cautious approach of accepting only narrowly focused questions, consulting widely, and writing narrow rather than broad opinions.
The first five months or so were particularly intense, as he and a handful of colleagues had to quickly sort through secret Bush-era advice to decide what to keep and what to change, while also helping craft new national-security policies along with a range of issues related to the financial crisis, like how the “TARP” bailout fund could be used.
In one early opinion, Mr. Barron decided to affirm a Bush-era opinion that it would be unconstitutional for Congress to grant the District of Columbia voting rights in the House of Representatives. But, as the Washington Post later disclosed, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. overruled Mr. Barron’s pronouncement. The issue became moot when the bill did not pass.
On Thursday, officials with whom he worked closely attested to his performance in a difficult role and lamented his departure.
Among them, Harold Koh, the top lawyer at the State Department, said: “ In a difficult period, he restored his office’s reputation for fidelity to the rule of law.”
Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, said: “I always found his approach to be careful and balanced. I think we are in a better place because of David’s contributions.”
President Obama has not yet submitted a new nominee to the Senate to lead the office following the withdrawal of Ms. Johnsen, and it was not clear whether Mr. Cedarbaum was under consideration for that selection.
TOM ENGLEHARDT: HOOKED ON WAR: THE NATION
I Guess we now have the full equation: The first duty of a Congressman is to get re-elected, the second is to be prepared to protect your ass and stay out of jail, and we’re expected to fund both efforts…Not Me!
This is just too good. is asking supporters to donate NOW to help prevent "subpoenas and investigations" resulting from a GOP majority. I'll say that again: Pelosi sees a House majority coming at her fast, and she is in full-panic mode.
Mama Pelosi is just trying to protect Barack Obama, but could she also be personally concerned? Remember the Eric Massa scandal? Remember Air Pelosi and the abuse of her air force plane - her family riding - without her, in fact without anyone from the House traveling? How about Nancy's own personal 'torture' scandal...calling the CIA liars even though tapes clearly show she is the liar. How about the "dirty deals, open threats, broken promises and disregard for democracy that pushed ObamaKare through the deeply flawed U.S. House of Representatives. Healthcare was purchased with domestic terrorism.
From Pelosi's fundraising letter ( The Hill):
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, has shown himself willing and eager to be a thorn in the side of the Obama administration on everything from the BP oil spill to the Joe Sestak job offer. Few doubt that he would use a chairmanship to ramp up those efforts.
Nancy failed to drain her swamp, as promised. The dirty mess still stands and is beyond foul.
From Darrell Issa:
"Obviously, Speaker Pelosi believes that a Democratic Congress should give this administration immunity from legitimate questions and appropriate accountability," Issa said. "Her statements are indicative of the desperate state her Majority is in and if the best case she can make is to caution the American people against the dangers of conducting legitimate and vigorous oversight, she is welcome to make that case."
Don't get me wrong. I'm not counting the seats before they're won, but Pelosi might be. I wonder if she takes an aspirin a day?
Inventing A Nation Of Deficit Hawks :Wapo, NYT Misread Polls On Public And Spending
Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress like to argue that public concern over federal budget deficits makes it impossible to pass a new round of job-creating stimulus spending. And corporate media like to echo these sentiments, despite there being little evidence that citizens are as concerned about these issues as inside-the-Beltway deficit hawks.
In the June 21 New York Times, John Harwood wrote, "The same polls that show voters upset about joblessness also show them upset about deficit spending, which Democratic leaders consider their only short-term method of reducing joblessness."
The Washington Post (6/19/10) put the same narrative on its front page under the headline, "Election-Year Deficit Fears Stall Obama Stimulus Plan." Reporter Lori Montgomery acknowledged that many economists see a greater threat looming if the government doesn't provide additional stimulus. But, she countered, "a competing threat--the exploding federal budget deficit--seems to be resonating more powerfully in Congress and among voters." The piece went on to note that the first stimulus package does not appear to poll very well, and that voters "are sending mixed signals about whether Washington should spend more on jobs or start minding the national debt."
But most recent polls show far more public concern over unemployment than deficit spending or the federal debt. As FAIR noted (FAIR Blog, 5/19/10), recent surveys from CBS/New York Times andNBC/Wall Street Journal asked voters to rank problems facing the country. Unemployment was more important by a spread of 49 percent to 5 percent in the CBS/NYT poll, 35 percent to 20 percent in the NBC/WSJ survey, and 47 percent to 15 percent from a recent Fox poll. Blogger Ben Somberg raised similar questions (6/19/10) in response to the Post story.
And with all the media hysteria over federal spending and the deficit, the public seems to have a somewhat muddled view of why it's even an issue. A recent Pew/National Journal survey (6/17-20/10) that found 74 percent of respondents believed that--contrary to what most economists would tell you--"budget cuts to reduce the federal deficit" would help create jobs. The same poll found similarly wide majorities seeing job creation from additional spending on public works programs, more aid to state and local governments, and cutting business and income taxes--all policies that would increase the deficit. Surveys in which the public ranks these conflicting priorities consistently give the deficit little emphasis.
So when the Post begins a May 19 story, "With voters up in arms over the mounting federal debt," where is the evidence for that characterization? Or for Times writer Matt Bai's suggestion (6/17/10) that "the federal deficit has emerged as a chief concern for voters"? Or when the Times reported (6/18/10) that the Senate's failure to pass a spending bill was evidence that lawmakers "reacting to rising public concern, have grown reluctant to vote for measures that add to federal red ink."
The evidence certainly isn't in the polls. One recent Gallup survey (6/17/10), for example, found that 60 percent of the public approved of "additional government spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy." One of the few polls to ask people to choose between jobs and the deficit directly (CBS/NYT, 4/5-12/10) found 50 percent agreeing that "the federal government should spend money to create jobs, even if it means increasing the budget deficit," with 42 percent choosing deficit-reduction over job-creating stimulus.
If such polls were taken seriously, news reports would state that politicians were bucking public opinion in order to pursue fiscal austerity. But outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post have turned reality on its head.
ACTION: Please ask the New York Times and Washington Post to stop suggesting that the public cares more about the federal budget deficit than job creation.
New York Times Public Editor
Ombud, Washington Post