Although it was noted in the news on February 1, I first heard on the grapevine a few weeks later that Senator Tom Cotton has put a hold on every pending United States Attorney nomination. He has placed the hold over his objection to the Justice Department’s refusal to undertake the defense of four federal marshals being sued for their work defending the Portland federal courthouse in the George Floyd riots of 2020 (or tell him why).
Has the department resolved his concerns? I learn from today’s midday edition of Punchbowl News that the department has not responded to his satisfaction and that that he is hanging tough:
Nominees who have been caught under Cotton’s hold include eight U.S. attorneys, two U.S. Marshals and one DOJ political appointee.
At the closed-door Senate GOP lunch today, Cotton explained why he was blocking the nominees. Cotton noted that while it was not common for a senator to block U.S. attorneys, he believes it’s even rarer for the Justice Department to fail to defend federal law enforcement officers.
Cotton asked his GOP colleagues to press DOJ to give an explanation as to why they won’t provide what he believes is routine legal representation to the officers. Cotton sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland about this in February.
I also learn from the report that the Punchbowl crowd is unhappy with Senator Cotton and that they cannot conceal their displeasure:
DOJ…says that they are providing counsel for 70 people charged in the demonstration. Of the four officers Cotton is referencing, only one has been denied counsel and DOJ has not made a decision on three others. DOJ says statute determines whether they can provide representation.
“[O]nly one has been denied counsel and DOJ has not made a decision on three others.” That is precisely the point of Senator Cotton’s January 31 letter to the meritless Merrick Garland. What’s the problem with DOJ fulfilling its “long-standing practice” of providing a defense to the four marshals sued for actions taken in the line of duty? DOJ isn’t even telling its friends at Punchbowl.
As Senator Cotton observed in the February 10 letter to Garland — linked by Punchbowl above, but neither quoted nor paraphrased — “you didn’t answer my question. Why won’t the Department of Justice defend four deputy U.S. Marshals attacked by a left-wing street militia in Portland?”
Perhaps the Punchbowl crowd can seek an explanation from Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. She knows why.