Monday, August 29, 2005

When Will the Senate Confirm Alice Fisher to Lead the Criminal Division?

Alice Fisher was nominated as the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division in  April and approved  by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, but a hold on her nomination by Michigan Senator Carl Levin has stalled the process.  According to a Newsweek article (here) in early August, Levin is seeking additional information, apparently including a personal interview with an FBI agent, concerning Fisher's knowledge of abusive interrogation techniques used on prisoners detained at Guantanamo.  While Fisher's involvement in the entire affair seems modest at best, Levin is involved in a tug-of-war with the Department of Justice over access to the FBI agent, whom Justice interviewed but has refused to make available to the Senator.  Being a pawn in that kind of fight often means the nomination will linger while the two sides glare at each other.  Even the intercession of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did not budge Senator Levin. 

While the Criminal Division will still operate, the absence of a Senate-approved AAG means that there will be no new initiatives, and some decisions will be postponed pending Fisher's approval.  Moreover, the top levels of Justice do not have others with extensive criminal experience outside of the career prosecutors, who do not have the political capital of a Presidential appointee.  Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has left the Department to become the General Counsel for Lockheed Martin, and his nominated successor, Tim Flanigan, has not come before the Senate for a vote (nor does Flanigan, Attorney General Gonzales' chief deputy in the White House Counsel's office, have much criminal experience).  Career prosecutor David Margolis, an Associate Deputy Attorney General, will take over Comey's role overseeing U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the leak about Valerie Plame, probably the most politically-sensitive case at the moment in the Department.  With the pending Senate consideration of the nomination of John Roberts likely to draw most of the attention over the next few weeks, the question is whether Fisher's nomination will be freed up or remain in limbo.  (ph)

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