Today, during the interregnum between Christmas and New Year’s, when no one was looking, President Obama circumvented the Senate and made a “recess appointment” of James Cole to be Deputy Attorney General.
Cole, a close pal of Attorney General Eric Holder, has written that the Sept. 11 attacks were not acts of war. He also worked as the “independent” monitor of AIG during years leading up to the firm’s 2008 collapse, and has been criticized for, well, not monitoring things very well at all.
What’s more, Cole took on the dicey role of representing Saudi Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud after he was sued by 9/11 families over allegations he was involved in financing terrorists.
Cole’s nomination was opposed unanimously by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee and then blocked on the Senate floor. He was even opposed by GOP panel member Lindsey Graham, who supported both of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.
That is, Republicans are not nearly “playing politics” on this one. They have deep concerns about sticking Cole at the Justice’s No. 2 position, a post from which he will basically be running the department while Holder focuses on policy. What’s more, Cole is now in a position to become attorney general.
In an editorial published just before the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Cole opposed the use of military commissions to try terror suspects and said the attacks were not acts of war, comparing them to other crimes. Here’s what he wrote.
The attorney general is not a member of the military fighting a war–he is a prosecutor fighting crime. For all the rhetoric about war, the Sept. 11 attacks were criminal acts of terrorism against a civilian population, much like the terrorist acts of Timothy McVeigh in blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City, or of Omar Abdel-Rahman in the first effort to blow up the World Trade Center. The criminals responsible for these horrible acts were successfully tried and convicted under our criminal justice system, without the need for special procedures that altered traditional due process rights.
Our country has faced many forms of devastating crime, including the scourge of the drug trade, the reign of organized crime, and countless acts of rape, child abuse, and murder. The acts of Sept. 11 were horrible, but so are these other things.
Cole has been criticized by a whistleblower group and former AIG employees for getting coopted into the company’s culture and failing to peform his oversight duties. Republicans complained they were denied access to documents pertaining to Cole’s time at AIG.
In a critical piece written a few days ago, The Huffington Post noted that AIG went down amid questionable practices under the passive gaze of its supposed monitor.
During his time at AIG, the firm dangerously ramped up its sale of credit-default swaps (essentially insurance) to investment banks, essentially betting big that the housing market wouldn’t collapse.
Several former AIG employees told The Huffington Post that Cole made a good first impression and seemed to take his job seriously in the beginning. “He would write these blistering reports about the lack of compliance and he really seemed to be on top of things,” says one ex-staffer.
But Cole became more complacent over time, not effectively overseeing the firm, allowing AIG officials to review his quarterly reports to the SEC and declining to monitor AIG-FP despite increasing signs that that division was veering out of control, claim these former employees.
“It was either incompetence, negligence or fraud and I have nothing to indicate that it was fraud,” says the ex-staffer.
With his recess appointment, Cole can serve through the end 2011.