"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.[snip]
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.
Besides the ugliness of the attacks, what the Republicans are doing is really unprecedented. First, the President has traditionally been given deference in the choice of his advisors. If some President wants to have someone in his cabinet, the presumption is that he ought to be able to do so, absent illegality or some sort of manifest incompetence. For the Republican Senators to hold these appointees up not for those reasons, but because they disagree with their policies, is just wrong; if this happened every time a new administration came into office, the opposition party would filibuster half the nominations and no one would never govern at all.
Second, what the Republicans are trying to do is to dictate to the President a matter that is purely his prerogative: deciding whether or not to unclassify documents. This is insane: it's as though Obama threatened to withhold funding for the Senate unless Mitch McConnell fired some staffer he didn't like. [UPDATE: Adam Serwer points out that it isn't even optional: a judge has ordered that the memos be turned over.]
And the combination -- holding appointments hostage while trashing people's reputations in order to keep Obama from making a decision he plainly has the right to make -- is unconscionable.
Alas, unconscionable acts have become their particular specialty. So has contempt for the law, slavering devotion to torture, and moral atrophy. With this latest fuckery, they've proven beyond reasonable doubt they're unfit for government service.