Senate panel votes to confirm ‘torture memo’ author over objections from Dems, Duckworth

Senate panel votes to confirm ‘torture memo’ author over objections from Dems, Duckworth
© Greg Nash

A Senate panel narrowly approved President Trump’s controversial pick to serve as the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) chief legal adviser on Wednesday.

In a 14-13 vote, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee agreed to confirm Steven Bradbury as DOT general counsel, sending his nomination to the floor.

As chief legal officer of the department, Bradbury would have final authority on questions of law at the DOT and would supervise, coordinate and review the work of almost 500 lawyers throughout the agency.

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Democrats opposed Bradbury’s nomination on Wednesday for a litany of reasons. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) excoriated Bradbury for writing the legal justifications that authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques” under the George W. Bush administration.

Bradbury was one of several architects of the so-called torture memos while he was the head of the Justice Department’s legal counsel office. That “should disqualify someone from any government service,” said Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who lost both of her legs in combat.

She added that it was alarming that Bradbury showed complete “deference” to a president’s policy priorities.

“An unprincipled lawyer paired with an unprincipled president is a dangerous combination,” Duckworth said.

Democrats blocked Bradbury from serving as assistant attorney general in 2008 over his role in the "torture memos."

During his confirmation hearing earlier this year, Bradbury emphasized that he was not advocating for a position, but was just giving his best legal judgment.

“Every opinion I gave … represented my best judgment of what the laws in effect at that time required,” Bradbury said. “I certainly recognize and respect that some of the questions we addressed during my tenure in the office raised difficult issues about which reasonable people could disagree.”

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSenate panel approves bill to speed up driverless cars Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump proclaims 'Cybersecurity Awareness Month' | Equifax missed chance to patch security flaw | Lawmakers await ex-CEO's testimony | SEC hack exposed personal data MORE (D-Fla.), ranking member on the panel, said he was concerned about Bradbury’s work in the private sector representing Takata Corp. The Japanese auto parts company is responsible for making defective airbags that have led to the largest auto recall in history — something the DOT has a role in overseeing.

Nelson said Bradbury did not agree to recuse himself from all Takata-related matters at the DOT, though some Republicans disputed that.

“His refusal to recuse himself from all potential safety matters involving the Takata airbag crisis raises serious questions about his ability to be independent,” Nelson said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) took issue with Bradbury for initially failing to tell senators about his previous work with United Airlines.

The Democratic opposition makes it unlikely that Bradbury will be included in a package of panel-approved nominations that senators are hoping to clear before the August recess.

Those nominees would include Ron Batory to be administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. The panel approved his nomination by voice vote earlier on Wednesday.