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John Cornyn is the Very Model of a Modern Major Republican

June 13, 2012

During a highly charged Senate hearing on Tuesday, Texas Republican John Cornyn demanded the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder. That Cornyn would emerge from GOP central casting to lead the right-wing witch hunt against Holder comes as no surprise (and not just because of his staunch opposition to man-box turtle marriage). After all, back in 2009 Senator Cornyn tried to block Holder's nomination in order to secure protection for the Bush torture team. In the wake of the 2005 Schiavo affair, the former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court threatened judges from the Senate floor. He called the investigation of Bush administration officials who outed covert CIA operative Valerie Plame an effort to "smear the president" and later tried to block subpoenas for Karl Rove and Harriet Miers over the 2007 prosecutors purge by claiming Democrats were engaged in a "political witch hunt." And in 2006, Judge Cornyn defended President Bush's illegal NSA domestic surveillance program by declaring, "None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead."
That record not only makes Big, Bad John Cornyn a Texas-sized hypocrite. It means he's the very model of a modern major Republican.
On Tuesday, Senator Cornyn let Attorney General Holder have it during Senate hearings on the "Fast and Furious" imbroglio:

"You've violated the public trust in my view and by failing and refusing to perform the duties of your office," he said.
"Mr. Attorney General, it is more with sorrow than anger that I would say that you leave me no alternative but to join those who call upon you to resign your office."
"The American people deserve better; they deserve an attorney general who is accountable and independent; they deserve an attorney general who puts justice before politics."

That's more than a little ironic coming from the man who penned a 2005 op-ed endorsing then Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales as a "good man" who "follows the law." Ironic, but not surprising. After all, John Cornyn opposed Holder's January 2009 nomination as AG from the beginning, in large part because President Obama's selection did not share his enthusiasm for detainee torture. Senator Cornyn demanded Holder answer a hypothetical question about a ticking time bombs and torture. Cornyn's enthusiasm for the waterboarding was clear throughout:

CORNYN: You would still refuse to condone aggressive interrogation techniques like waterboarding to get that information, which would, under my hypothetical, save perhaps tens of thousands of lives...
HOLDER: I think your hypothetical assumes a premise that I'm not willing to concede.
CORNYN: I know you don't like my hypothetical.
HOLDER: No, the hypothetical's fine; the premise that underlies it I'm not willing to accept, and that is that waterboarding is the only way that I could get that information from those people.
CORNYN: Assume that it was.
HOLDER: [Laughs] Given the knowledge that I have about other techniques and what I've heard from retired admirals and generals and FBI agents, there are other ways in a timely fashion that you can get information out of people that is accurate and will produce useable intelligence. And so it's hard for me to accept or to answer your hypothetical without accepting your premise. And in fact, I don't think I can do that.

Unhappy with Holder's response that "waterboarding is torture," Cornyn tried to hold up his confirmation until he received assurances that no one from the Bush administration would be prosecuted for its regime of detainee torture:

"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."

(Cornyn need not have worried. During his confirmation hearings, Holder turned to that tried if untrue Republican talking point in sadly announcing "we don't want to criminalize policy differences that might exist.")
As it turns out, Cornyn's own "understanding of what the law was" has never been his strong suit. Cornyn's sneering disregard for the rule of law became clear in December 2005 during his knee-jerk defense of President Bush's regime of illegal domestic surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA). Along with Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Cornyn was among the first Republicans to mouth the GOP's "give me death" defense:

"None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead."

That disdain extends to the United States Supreme Court as well. When the Roberts' Court in the 2006 Boumediene case ruled that Guantanamo detainees have habeas corpus rights, Cornyn blasted the decision as "both troubling and disappointing."

"Today the Supreme Court ignored this law and the informed expertise of the President and Congress in matters of national security - and gave itself a blank check to assume control of wartime detainee policy. This is unacceptable and unprecedented."

Of course, what is really unacceptable and unprecedented is for a United States Senator, one who was a former state Supreme Court chief justice at that, to threaten American judges with whom he disagrees.
Now, many of the leading lights in the Republican Party have it made clear that judicial intimidation is now an acceptable part of conservative discourse and political strategy. And Cornyn has been at the forefront of GOP advocacy of violence towards members of the bench whose rulings part ways with conservative orthodoxy

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 a judge in Atlanta and the family members of another in Chicago, 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."

(As it turns out, Cornyn was merely echoing the words of the indicted former House Majority Leader and fellow Texan Tom Delay. On March 31st, 2005 Delay thundered in response to the consistent rulings in favor of Michael Schiavo by all federal and state court judges involved, "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today.")
Facing criticism for his remarks seemingly endorsing right-wing retribution against judges, Cornyn held his ground. "I didn't make the link," he said on Fox News Sunday. "It was taken out of context," adding sarcastically, "I regret it was taken out of context and misinterpreted."
Not by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. O'Connor, who along with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been the target of right-wing death threats, expressed her contempt for lawmakers who were "creating a culture" that threatens the credibility of the rule of law:

"It gets worse. It doesn't help when a high-profile senator suggests a 'cause-and-effect connection' [between controversial rulings and subsequent acts of violence.]"

Among the judges who subsequently were threatened was Reggie Walton. Ironically now a FISA judge whose role is to approve federal requests for electronic surveillance of American citizens, Walton presided over the conviction of Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby. For that, Walton revealed, he was the target of right-wing rage:

"I received a number of angry, harassing mean-spirited phone calls and letters. Some of those were wishing bad things on me and my family."

Wishing bad things, that is, for convicting Libby of perjury and obstruction of justice in the 2003 outing of the CIA's Valerie Plame. As for John Cornyn, he apparently had no problem with Dick Cheney's office leaking vital national security information in order to protect President Bush. As he complained back then:

"In their eagerness to smear the president and his administration, it has become increasingly clear that the president's opponents jumped out way too far, way too fast. I hope that the embarrassing antics will stop, but I'm not convinced they will."

Of course, that was then and this is now. And now, a Democrat sits in the White House. And as Republicans press their case for a special prosecutor in response to recent revelations over President Obama's "kill list" and Iranian cyberwar programs, John Cornyn protested that ""I don't think we can just let the White House investigate itself or take its word for it that it's not the source of these leaks." As he put it yesterday:

"Instead of an independent prosecutor, Attorney General Holder has decided to appoint two federal prosecutors that are in his chain of command and who are directly under his personal supervision."

One of those two, Rod Rosenstein, happens to be one of the attorneys who prosecuted Clinton friends Jim and Susan McDougal and, it turns out, is a holdover Bush appointee. (Just like the recently departed Patrick Fitzgerald. It was the Republican Fitzgerald who prosecuted Libby, whose later commutation John Cornyn supported.)
But that simply won't do for John Cornyn. A partisan bulldog to the end, John Cornyn is the very model of a modern major Republican.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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