The Senate blocked the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who holds extreme views on everything from abortion to detainee policy, to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. OLC is a key office that renders opinions on key constitutional issues for Justice and the entire government. Now word comes that an attorney who formerly represented al-Qaeda terrorists will fill the spot. The New York Times reports:
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. …
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. . .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.
As I’ve previously reported, there are serious concerns regarding conflicts of interest for those who previously represented detainees when they “switch sides”:
The limited information the Justice Department has so far released raises real concerns as to whether former advocates for detainees were properly recused from matters involving Guantánamo detainees and policy decisions that would inevitably involve their former clients. Did they violate obligations to former clients by construing their recusal obligations too narrowly? Did they damage their current client, the United States, by shading their advice for the sake of consistency with their prior representation?
Professor Richard Painter, an ethics expert from the University of Minnesota, wrote to Holder in April raising such issues. He noted, “There are legitimate concerns about client conflicts for lawyers who previously represented detainees and now work for the Department.” The “simplest” approach he advised would be to have them recused from all detainee matters. … Painter explained that there are multiple risks for these attorneys. “One danger is that you give an issue to the detainee who is convicted. Another is that you actually disclose information [you obtained] from a former client. A third is that the lawyer in an effort to avoid one and two bends over backwards by underrepresenting” the United States. Clients (even the government) have a right to be fully represented.
If he is appointed to fill the spot on a permanent basis, the Senate should not confirm Cedarbaum until he reveals which cases he has and will recuse himself from. That he would even be nominated for this position tells us volumes about the Obama-Holder mindset. Their preference for appointing to sensitive positions those attorneys whose sympathies and efforts were devoted to terrorists should concern us all.