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GAO sides with White House on DOJ lawyer

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has backed the Bush administration in a partisan spat over a controversial Justice Department lawyer.

Gary Kepplinger, general counsel for the nonpartisan GAO, sent Democrats a June 13 letter saying Steven Bradbury has not violated federal law by running the Office of Legal Counsel for three years without Senate confirmation. The decision virtually ensures that the administration will keep Bradbury in the position through the end of President Bush’s term.

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The office provides legal advice to the president and attorney general. Bradbury was first nominated to head the office in June 2005, but his confirmation stalled in the Senate after it was revealed that he might have played a crucial role in authorizing memos outlining tough interrogation tactics on terrorism detainees.

The White House says Democrats have distorted Bradbury’s record. In response, it has skirted the confirmation process by allowing Bradbury to run the office in a different capacity.

By circumventing the process, Democrats charge Bradbury’s appointment violates an obscure 1998 law known as the Vacancies Reform Act, which limits the time a person can serve in an acting role.

The Bush administration has rejected that argument because Bradbury is not the “acting” administrator. He serves under the title “principal deputy assistant attorney general,” a position he has held since April 2004.

The administration says nothing in the law prohibits the attorney general from reassigning the responsibility of the vacant Senate-confirmed position to another employee in the office.

In the Tuesday letter to Democratic Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight GOP senators: Mnuchin should not go to Saudi Arabia MORE (Ill.), Russ Feingold (Wis.) and Edward Kennedy (Mass.), the GAO backed that argument, saying there is “no language” in Justice Department regulations preventing those responsibilities from being delegated.