WASHINGTON – The White House withdrew its nominee to become the CIA's top lawyer on Tuesday after Democrats raised concerns that the agency's interrogation techniques may be illegal.
The president sent a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee informing it of the decision to withdraw the nomination of John Rizzo to be the CIA's general counsel. The panel had been expected to consider Rizzo's nomination at a hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Rizzo, currently serving as the CIA's interim general counsel, told a Senate panel in June that he did not object to a 2002 memo authorizing interrogation techniques that stop just short of inflicting pain equal to that accompanying organ failure or even death.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who led the opposition to Rizzo, called him the wrong man for the job.
"I hope that the administration's next nominee for the position demonstrates greater respect for the rule of law and a firmer commitment to making sure that our nation's counterterrorism programs have the strong legal foundation that they deserve," Wyden said.
A CIA spokesman said last month that Director Michael Hayden strongly supported Rizzo's nomination, noting that Rizzo would be the first general counsel to come up through the agency's ranks. Rizzo has been with the CIA for over three decades and served as acting general counsel from 2001 to 2002 and again since August 2004.
At a public hearing in June, Rizzo said he did not object to the 2002 memo that said for an interrogation technique to be considered torture, it must inflict pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." He said he later found the document to be an "aggressive, expansive" reading of U.S. law.