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Obama pick for DOJ legal counsel withdraws nomination

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website] withdrew her candidacy on Friday. Dawn Johnsen [professional profile], nominated [JURIST report] as the OLC's Assistant Attorney General in January 2009, has faced over a year of objection from Republicans for her criticisms of the interrogation methods [JURIST news archive] approved by the OLC during the Bush administration and her support of abortion rights. In March, the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] for the second time recommended her to the Senate for confirmation [materials] on a strict party-line vote. However, it is unlikely [AP report] that Johnsen would have been able to obtain the votes necessary for confirmation and overcome a possible filibuster. The White House refrained from appointing [NYT report] Johnsen during the Senate recess last month, which would have avoided the confirmation process. White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said that the Senate should put politics aside and bring impartial legal advice back to the OLC.

Johnsen, who previously served as acting head of the OLC under former president Bill Clinton, argued to restore the OLC’s reputation and political independence. Under the Bush administration, OLC lawyers John Yoo [academic profile; JURIST news archive] and Jay Bybee [academic profile] produced confidential memos [JURIST news archive] authorizing the use of controversial CIA interrogation techniques that critics have called torture. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official profile] said at a February hearing that he was prepared to subpoena [JURIST report] the DOJ if it did not turn over missing e-mail records dealing with the so-called "torture memos." In February, the DOJ overruled the findings of a report [JURIST reports] concluding that Yoo and Bybee committed professional misconduct. Instead, the DOJ said that they were only guilty of "poor judgment" in writing the memos. Former US attorney general John Ashcroft has defended the advice the DOJ gave the Bush administration on the use of certain interrogation techniques, saying that all guidelines issued by his office were legal.

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