James Cole nominated for No. 2 job at Justice Department

By Jerry Markon and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 22, 2010

The White House nominated James M. Cole as deputy attorney general Friday, turning to a veteran Washington lawyer to fill a critical position that has been vacant for months.

Cole, 58, is a white-collar defense lawyer and longtime friend of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Cole has held numerous jobs in government, including 13 years at the Justice Department. He also worked as an independent monitor reviewing the operations of American International Group, the insurance giant that was bailed out during the financial crisis. Senate Republicans said they plan to make that an issue in his confirmation hearings.

The deputy attorney general is essentially a chief operating officer for the Justice Department, running a vast 24-hour operation with more than 100,000 employees. The job involves such tasks as setting policy, deciding whether to prosecute high-profile cases and resolving disputes between Justice agencies.

If confirmed, Cole would take over at a time of great challenges for high-level Justice officials. Among them are navigating sometimes-tricky relations with the White House, finding a place to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and investigating possible fraud related to the financial crisis.

The previous deputy attorney general, David W. Ogden, announced in December that he would step down, only nine months after his confirmation. Gary G. Grindler has served on an acting basis since Ogden left in February. Current and former Justice officials said a major reason for Ogden's departure was a lack of chemistry with Holder and senior staff members.

Cole and Holder worked together in Justice's public integrity section, where Cole was deputy chief before leaving in 1992. Lawyers said their relationship will be key in avoiding the problems that befell Ogden.

"The fact that he has a good relationship with the attorney general is certainly a plus,'' said Michael Bromwich, the department's inspector general in the Clinton administration. He said Cole is "a smart guy and a good lawyer, and he was a meticulous and careful prosecutor.''

Cole did not return calls and e-mails requesting comment.

Cole served as a special counsel to the House ethics committee in 1997 as it investigated allegations that then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) used tax-exempt money for partisan purposes.

U.S. officials said Cole, as AIG's independent monitor, did not review matters related to the company's near-collapse. But Jeff Sessions (Ala.), ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Cole's work for AIG is an "area of potential concern" because AIG received "a massive $182.3 billion bailout."

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