By Evan Pérez
Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a lawyer in his office to lead the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides advice to the President on constitutional issues and in recent years has been at the center of political fights over presidential power and national security.
Holder on Monday elevated Karl Thompson to acting assistant attorney general post. He also will serve as principal deputy assistant attorney general, which is a senior legal post in the Justice Department hierarchy.
"During his five years with the department, Karl has distinguished himself as a lawyer of unparalleled intellect and integrity,” Holder said in a statement. “His guidance has helped the department navigate some of the toughest legal challenges of this administration. I'm grateful that he has agreed to lead the Office of Legal Counsel and look forward to continuing to rely on his superb judgment as he assumes this new role."
Thompson has served in various roles at the Justice Department since 2009, much of it in OLC and more recently as counselor to Holder.
He replaces Caroline Krass, who also held the post on an acting basis and earlier this month was confirmed by the Senate as Central Intelligence Agency general counsel. The OLC post became vacant in December with the departure of Virginia Seitz.
OLC has been at the center of ideological battles since the post-9/11 controversy over the CIA’s interrogation program, which critics including Holder and President Barack Obama say included the torture of detainees accused of terrorism.
OLC memorandums during the administration of President George W. Bush approved of the use of tactics, including waterboarding, which induces the sensation of drowning, on detainees. Several of those memos were later withdrawn near the end of the Bush administration.
More recently, OLC has issued memorandums that supported Obama’s recess appointments, an issue now before the Supreme Court, and the extrajudicial killing of Anwar al Awlaki, an American Islamic cleric of Yemeni decent.
Political disputes over OLC caused the job to remain without a Senate-confirmed OLC assistant attorney general for seven years until Seitz was confirmed in 2011.
Thompson is a 1991 Harvard graduate, and holds a PhD from University of Cambridge and law degree from the University of Chicago law school.