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Specter now says he'll support Dawn Johnsen for Office of Legal Counsel

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By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) announced Tuesday that he would support law professor Dawn Johnsen as the new leader of a critical Justice Department post. The move could potentially break a legislative logjam lasting nearly a year over her nomination.

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President Obama tapped Johnsen last March to head the Office of Legal Counsel, made famous during George W. Bush's administration as the place where controversial memos on executive power, waterboarding of terrorist suspects and warrantless eavesdropping won support.

But the Obama administration and the Senate leadership struggled to find 60 senators willing to support Johnsen. Moderate lawmakers have expressed concern over her legal work for an abortion rights group and her positions on certain national security issues.

Johnsen's nomination had been stalled for so long that she resumed teaching courses at Indiana University, commuting between Bloomington and her family the Washington area.

Specter's action came after prodding from Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.), who is challenging the veteran lawmaker in the state's Democratic primary.

Specter said in a statement that he would vote for Johnsen and that he had met with her. Her nomination expired late last year, but the White House has announced its intention to resubmit it.

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