A picture of Senator Dianne Feinstein
Dianne F.
Democrat CA

About Sen. Dianne
  • Executive Session

    by Senator Dianne Feinstein

    Posted on 2015-12-14

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    FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.



    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I am very pleased to rise in strong support of the confirmation of Alissa Starzak to be the general counsel of the Army. I urge my colleagues to support her nomination in the vote we are about to take.

    Alissa was nominated for the position in July of 2014. While she was reported out favorably by the distinguished Armed Services Committee last year, she did not receive consideration by the full Senate prior to the end of the 113th Congress. The President nominated her again in January of this year, and I am very pleased that the Armed Services Committee, under the chairmanship of John McCain and the ranking member, Jack Reed, approved her nomination just a week ago, and I thank both of them for doing so.

    I support Alissa Starzak for the only reason that matters: She will be an excellent general counsel for the Department of the Army. First, she is a strong lawyer. Second, she cares deeply about the men and women of the U.S. Army. Given the many challenges our military faces, we can't afford to have this position remain vacant when there is a very strong candidate before us.

    Since mid-2011, Alissa Starzak has been a senior attorney within the Office of General Counsel of the Department of Defense. She currently serves as a deputy general counsel. She has led the Department's interactions with Congress on preparing and negotiating the annual Defense authorization, and she has had senior roles in policy discussions about detainee affairs, sexual assault, and harassment in the military.

    Alissa has strong expertise in the legal challenges that confront the U.S. Army, and she is well suited to provide legal guidance to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Army and ensure the Department strictly obeys the law.

    More importantly for me, Alissa was a counsel on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from early 2007 to 2011, first under Chairman Jay Rockefeller and then continuing under my chairmanship. In that role, she worked diligently on legislation to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, culminating in the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, and she drafted our Intelligence authorization bills, among other issues.

    From December 2007 until her departure from the committee in 2011, Alissa was one of two staff leads for our review of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. She coauthored a [[Page S8628]] summary of interrogations of two early CIA detainees, Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri, that spurred the committee to approve, by a 14-to-1 vote, a full review of the entire program.

    As the colead of that study, Ms. Starzak reviewed many thousands of documents, drafted portions of the committee's study, and advised me and other members of the committee on the progress of the investigation. She departed the committee in 2011--that was 4 years ago--before the completion of the report, its declassification, and its public release.

    I know her work on the SSCI study came up during her confirmation hearing at the Armed Services Committee, and I want the record to be perfectly clear. Alissa Starzak departed the committee staff in May of 2011, well before the controversy of the CIA gaining unauthorized access to the committee staff computer network and well before the controversy over the so-called Panetta Review documents. So it is not fair to blame her for anything that happened during that time. She was not there and has not been there for 4 years.

    As I stated in a Senate floor statement on March 11, 2014, a portion of the CIA's Panetta Review was transported securely, consistent with its classification from a CIA off-site location to another secure facility--the committee's safe in the Senate. This relocation occurred in late 2013, more than 2 years after Ms. Starzak left the committee staff and long after she began her work at the Pentagon. She had no prior knowledge and no role in the transportation of the document to the Senate. So there should be no confusion on that point.

    Before coming to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Alissa Starzak worked as an attorney at the CIA's Office of General Counsel and as an associate in the international law firm of O'Melveny & Myers.

    She clerked for the Honorable E. Grady Jolly on the Fifth Circuit of Appeals after graduating from the University of Chicago Law School with honors. Ms. Starzak did her undergraduate work at Amherst College where she graduated magna cum laude. So Alissa Starzak has the intelligence, the right background, and the strong experience within the Department of Defense to be general counsel for the Army.

    I urge my colleagues to confirm Alissa Starzak. It is unfortunate that it has taken a year and a half since she was first nominated, but I am very pleased we are voting to confirm her today.

    I conclude by thanking Senator McCain and Senator Reed for working together to get this done.

    I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

    Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, since no one else seeks the floor at this time, it has just been brought to my attention that there are a couple of letters here which I thought are on point, and it will become clear.

    This letter is from Alberto Mora: I want to state my absolute and explicit endorsement for the nomination of Alissa Starzak to be the next General Counsel of the Army.

    By my current affiliation with the Harvard Kennedy School's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, I served as the General Counsel of the Navy from 2001-2006. I have served alongside many of the most senior civilians in the Department of Defense, and I know what qualities successful civilian leaders should bring to their work, among them professional competence and a commitment to honorable public service. These two qualities describe Ms. Starzak.

    The Senate has honored me four times by confirming me for appointments in both Republican and Democratic administrations. I am familiar with and supportive of the Senate's role in confirming senior federal officials, but I fear that in Ms. Starzak's case her confirmation has been impeded for reasons unworthy of the Senate. As you are no doubt aware, she served as counsel on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for more than four years. Her work on that committee was thorough and professional; she has served the Congress and our republic ably. That she has been disparaged for her work is wrong. It sends a clear and troubling signal to every congressional staffer of both parties that his or her dedicated public service may be treated not as a credential, but as a disqualification for senior administration appointments. If that signal is confirmed by failing to confirm Ms. Starzak--not for what she did wrong, but for what she did right--it would only serve to damage the Senate, this and future administrations, and our nation.

    It is signed by Alberto Mora.

    I would also like to submit a letter from RADM John D. Hutson, U.S. Navy, head of the JAG Corps, retired.

    I write to express my complete and unequivocal support for the nomination of Alissa Starzak to be the next General Counsel of the Army. I have deep concerns that her nomination has been the subject of unfortunate and nasty political theater, but I am heartened to know that her nomination will receive a full floor vote on Monday, 14 December 2015. As you are no doubt aware, she served as a professional staff member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for more than four years. . . .

    I served as The Judge Advocate General of the Navy. I underwent the confirmation process. As the senior uniformed lawyer in our service, I spent significant time assisting nominees with confirmation. Throughout my career I worked alongside, and under, some of the most capable, professional, and brilliant people who make up the civilian ranks of appointed leaders in our government. While I don't know her personally, I am very familiar with her reputation, which is stellar.

    I write because I believe her case has been one that has damaged our republic. She has been maligned for performing her duties as a public servant, and her nomination was held up because of events that occurred after she left the committee staff.

    I encourage you in the strongest terms to confirm her for this position. Losing her services to the rankling of partisan disputes would be to the detriment of both the Department of Defense and the country.

    Sincerely, John D. Hutson, Rear Admiral, USN.

    Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that both of these letters be printed in the Record.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: McLean, VA, December 11, 2015.

    Dear Senator: I write to state my absolute and explicit endorsement for the nomination of Alissa Starzak to be the next General Counsel of the Army.

    Before my current affiliation with the Harvard Kennedy School's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, I served as the General Counsel of the Navy from 2001-2006. I have served alongside many of the most senior civilians in the Department of Defense, and I know what qualities successful civilian leaders should bring to their work, among them professional competence and a commitment to honorable public service. These two qualities describe Ms. Starzak.

    The Senate has honored me four times by confirming me for appointments in both Republican and Democratic administrations. I am familiar with and supportive of the Senate's role in confirming senior federal officials, but I fear that in Ms. Starzak's case her confirmation has been impeded for reasons unworthy of the Senate. As you are no doubt aware, she served as counsel on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for more than four years. Her work on that committee was thorough and professional; she has served the Congress and our republic ably. That she has been disparaged for her work is wrong. It sends a clear and troubling signal to every congressional staffer of both parties that his or her dedicated public service may be treated not as a credential, but as a disqualification for senior administration appointments. If that signal is confirmed by failing to confirm Ms. Starzak--not for what she did wrong, but for what she did right--it would only serve to damage the Senate, this and future administrations, and our nation.

    I encourage you to confirm Ms. Starzak without further delay.

    Sincerely, Alberto Mora.

    ____ December 11, 2015.

    Dear Senator: I write to express my complete and unequivocal support for the nomination of Alissa Starzak to be the next General Counsel of the Army. I have deep concerns that her nomination has been the subject of unfortunate and nasty political theater, but I am heartened to know that her nomination will receive a full floor vote on Monday, 14 December 2015. As you are no doubt aware, she served as a professional staff member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for more than four years. Unfortunately, she has been unfairly and inappropriately used as ``leverage'' in a partisan quarrel.

    I served as The Judge Advocate General of the Navy. I underwent the confirmation process. As the senior uniformed lawyer in our service, I spent significant time assisting nominees with confirmation. Throughout my career I worked alongside, and under, some of the most capable, professional, and brilliant people who make up the civilian ranks of appointed leaders in our government. While I don't know her personally, I am very familiar with her reputation, which is stellar.

    [[Page S8629]] I write because I believe her case has been one that has damaged our republic. She has been maligned for performing her duties as a public servant, and her nomination was held up because of events that occurred after she left the committee staff.

    I encourage you in the strongest terms to confirm her for this position. Losing her services to the rankling of partisan disputes would be to the detriment of both the Department of Defense and the country.

    Sincerely, John D. Hutson, Rear Admiral, USN, JACG, (Ret.).

    Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Thank you very much.

    Madam President, I yield the floor.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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