Senate confirms 3 top Justice Department nominees

WASHINGTON Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:06pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic-led Senate on Tuesday confirmed three of President Barack Obama's senior Justice Department nominees, including long-stalled Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who drew broad Republican opposition.

Senator Charles Grassley, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, voiced "serious concerns" about Cole's qualifications be Justice Department's second in command. He and other Republicans particularly objected to Cole favoring civil over military trials for terrorism suspects.

But the Senate, on a largely party-line vote of 55-42, confirmed Cole. The long-time prosecutor was temporarily installed into the job in January by Obama after Republicans blocked a confirmation vote for nearly a year.

Grassley recently lifted his procedural roadblock after reaching an agreement with the Justice Department to obtain information that he said was needed in the Senate's oversight of a botched undercover operation to track guns to Mexico.

The Senate also confirmed, on voice votes, Lisa Monaco to run the Justice Department's division that handles terrorism cases and Virginia Seitz to run the office of legal counsel, which provides the president advice on issues like the legality of U.S. military action in Libya.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, complained that Republicans had blocked the three for months "in abject disregard of the needs of the Justice Department and the country."

Leahy said Republicans had made Cole the first deputy attorney general nominee to face a procedural roadblock.

He noted that at his Senate confirmation hearing, Cole was introduced by former Republican Senator Jack Danforth as "someone without an ideological or political agenda."

Monaco previously served as chief of staff to FBI Director Robert Mueller and worked as a federal prosecutor, including being a part of the Enron Task Force that investigated the massive fraud at the company.

Obama used a procedural maneuver -- a so-called a recess appointment -- to install Cole as deputy attorney general after the post had been filled on an acting basis for almost a year.

If the Senate had not confirmed Cole, he would have been only allowed to serve until the end of this year. Now he can stay at least until the end of Obama's first term in 2013.

Before serving as deputy attorney general, Cole worked at a law firm as well as in other jobs at the Justice Department. He also served as special counsel for the House Ethics Committee in its 1997 probe of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Thomas Ferraro)

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