Politics & National Security

The Senate Should Act Now to Confirm Brian Egan as State Department Legal Adviser

By John Bellinger
Wednesday, November 18, 2015, 8:14 PM

Senate Democrats have called for the rapid confirmation of several stalled Presidential nominees to important national security positions in light of the Paris attacks and the potential terrorist threat to the United States. Although this may strike Republicans as political opportunism, the Democrats are right. The Senate has been holding up several highly qualified and personally non-controversial nominees to critical national security jobs where they are needed.

One of the nominees is Brian Egan, the current NSC Legal Adviser who was nominated in September 2014 to be the Legal Adviser to the State Department. The position of State Department Legal Adviser has been vacant for nearly three years, the longest vacancy in history. Although I admit to a certain bias, the position is important both internationally and inside the U.S. Government, especially at this time. The Legal Adviser is the senior international lawyer for the U.S. Government. The Legal Adviser works especially closely with senior officials of other countries on counter-terrorism issues and helps resolve legal impasses in international cooperation. As I have explained before, the Legal Adviser is also the voice of the U.S. Government on international law; the Legal Adviser can authoritatively call out other countries (such as Russia and China) on international law violations, and can explain and defend sometimes controversial U.S. actions (such as the use of drones or detention of terror suspects without trial).

Brian Egan -- who had the misfortune to work for me for four years -- is especially well-qualified to be Legal Adviser. He is a non-political career lawyer who has served in the State Department, the Treasury Department, and the National Security Council. Having also served as NSC Legal Adviser before becoming State Department Legal Adviser, I can say that Brian comes extremely well-prepared for the position at the State Department. He has spent as much time on counter-terrorism issues as any senior lawyer in the Executive branch. He knows the law, the issues, the players, and the governmental processes.

Given my prior service in the White House, Senate Democrats could have chosen to block my confirmation in 2005 but, after a brief delay, they chose not to do so. Senate Republicans should now put politics aside and confirm Brian Egan, and other important nominees, without further delay.