The Senate on Tuesday confirmed James M. Cole to the No. 2 spot at the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder after the nomination was stalled over terrorism trials and access to documents.
The 55-42 vote fell largely along party lines after GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa lifted an objection that had blocked Cole's confirmation as deputy attorney general. In a floor speech before the vote, Grassley said he had lifted his objection after the Justice Department agreed to allow oversight into a botched undercover operation involving guns being sent from the U.S. into Mexico.
But the deal didn't mean Grassley and others supported the nomination. They were troubled by Cole's preference for civil trials for terror suspects over military tribunals. And they chafed at President Barack Obama's appointment of Cole during Congress' winter recess. Cole has served as acting assistant attorney general since then.
"We have a process in place for nominations and if the president isn't willing to work with senators to clear nominations, the nominee shouldn't get a second bite at the apple," Grassley said.
The Senate also confirmed by voice vote two other high-ranking Justice officials, Lisa Monaco as assistant attorney general for national security and Virginia Seitz as head of the department's Office of Legal Counsel.
Republicans have specifically objected to a 2002 article in the Legal Times in which Cole likened the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Cole also said al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington were "criminal acts," rather than acts of war.
Had he not been confirmed, Cole, a former prosecutor, would only have been able to serve as deputy attorney general until the end of the year. Now, he can serve through 2012.
Monaco most recently served as the deputy attorney general's primary adviser on criminal, national security and civil matters. She also had been chief of staff and special counsel to FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Seitz is a veteran litigator who has worked on more than 100 Supreme Court briefs, Holder said.