Blocking Holder Cornyn's Latest Defense of Bush Crimes
Less than a week into the Obama presidency, Texas Senator John Cornyn has emerged as the new face of the obstructionist Republican Party in Congress. Rejecting President Obama's calls for a new spirit of cooperation, Cornyn on Tuesday delayed the inevitable confirmation of Secretary of State Clinton. The next day, Cornyn pushed back the confirmation of Eric Holder as Attorney General by at least a week out in hopes of a extorting a pledge not to pursue torture prosecutions against Bush administration officials. As it turns out, from torture and warrantless wiretapping to the U.S. attorneys scandal and even threatening "activist" judges, John Cornyn has defended the wrongdoing of George W. Bush at every turn.
On Wednesday, Cornyn turned to a new gambit to stall Holder's confirmation. After the Senate GOP's initial effort to derail Holder's bid over Bill Clinton's pardon of Mark Rich (a man then represented by attorney Scooter Libby, whose later Plamegate commutation by President Bush Cornyn supported), Cornyn turned to the torture issue. Just days after confronting Holder with a nonsensical hypothetical lauding waterboarding, Cornyn the torture advocate rushed to the defense of its practitioners during the Bush administration:
"It could well be there will be a request to delay the markup for a week so those questions can be asked and answered. Part of my concern relates to his statements at the hearing with regard to torture and what his intentions are toward our intelligence personnel who were operating in good faith based on their understanding of what the law was."
Of course, in his unease with Holder's unambiguous statement ("waterboarding is torture) Senator Cornyn is nothing if not consistent. Cornyn has long been a vocal cheerleader for the lawbreaking of the Bush administration
That includes George W. Bush's illicit spying on American citizens. Three years ago, Cornyn was among the first to offer a knee-jerk defense of President Bush's regime of illegal domestic surveillance. As news of the NSA's illicit warrantless wiretapping became public in December 2005, Cornyn was among the first Republicans to spit out the GOP's "give me death" defense:
"None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead."
Cornyn's stout support of the ethical misdeeds of the Bush administration also extends to its purge of U.S. prosecutors. Using almost identical language then ("basically a political witch hunt") as now ("I want some assurances that we're not going to be engaging in witch hunts"), Cornyn helped the GOP circle the wagons in the wake of the firing of 9 U.S. attorneys.
After an initial bout of self-doubt, Cornyn mounted a spirited defense of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as the revelations mushroomed. After the Attorney General's catastrophic press conference on March 13th, 2007 Judiciary Committee member Cornyn voiced concerns over the fallout from the White House's ham-fisted political subversion of the U.S. attorneys. "Appearances are troubling. This has not been handled well," he said. "But in Texas we believe in having a fair trial and then the hanging."
But by Sunday, March 18th, Senator Cornyn took to the airwaves to lead the Republican counterattack. On ABC's This Week with George Stephanopolous, Cornyn debuted two new GOP talking points to defend Gonzales and the Bush White House. He decried what he deemed a Democratic "political witch hunt." Two days later, Cornyn, the ranking minority member of the Senate Ethics Committee, regurgitated the soon-to-be commonplace Republican sound bite:
"I don't see what the hubbub is about relieving eight U.S. attorneys of their job; that's within the right of every president."
In a final irony, John Cornyn the former Texas Supreme Court justice has been a leading voice in the Republican effort to intimidate judges. Back in 2005, Cornyn was one of the GOP standard bearers in the conservative fight against so-called "judicial activism" in the wake of the Republicans' disastrous intervention in the Terri Schiavo affair. On April 4th, Cornyn took to the Senate floor to issue a not-too-thinly veiled threat to judges opposing his reactionary agenda. Just days after the murders of judges in Chicago and Atlanta, Cornyn offered his endorsement of judicial intimidation:
"I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country...And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence."
Like his fellow Texan Tom Delay ("The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today"), Cornyn refused to apologize for his incendiary - and threatening - comments.
As the Obama administration begins its new work, John Cornyn is fighting a rear-guard action to defend the Bush White House and its past misdeeds. In blocking Eric Holder in the name of endorsing torture, Cornyn's lesson for Americans seems to be that while war crimes may be forever, being a Republican means never having to say you're sorry. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, herself the recipient of death threats, put it in 2006, lawmakers like John Cornyn are "creating a culture" that threatens the credibility of the rule of law.