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Obama Bypasses Senate to Make Controversial Recess Appointments

President Barack Obama bypassed the Senate Wednesday to make six recess appointments who nominations had been stalled or blocked by federal lawmakers, including an assistant attorney general whose ties to insurance giant American International Group (AIG) drew widespread criticism.

Obama first nominated James Cole to the No. 2 Justice Department post in May. But Republican lawmakers blocked his confirmation in part because of questions about his role as an independent consultant for AIG before its near collapse and government bailout in 2008. Senate Republicans complained that confidentiality agreements prevented them from receiving answers about his work for the company.

Others, including Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the judiciary committee, raised questions about statements Cole made suggesting he supported trying terror suspects in U.S. courts rather than military tribunals.

Cole is a close friend of Attorney General Eric Holder and a partner at a private Washington law firm. His appointment is one of six Obama announced from his vacation in Hawaii, including ambassadors to Turkey and Syria.

Both Republican and Democratic presidents have made recess appointments, which circumvents the Senate's authority to confirm nominees, when they could not overcome delays in the Senate.  Obama signaled his willingness in the past to use recess appointments to overcome Republican opposition. The White House said the appointees he named Wednesday had their nominations pending for an average of five months.

The White House also announced Wednesday that Obama would use his power to make recess appointments to fill envoy posts to Azerbaijan, Syria and NATO allies Turkey and the Czech Republic. Recess appointments are made when the Senate is not in session and last only until the end of the next session of Congress. They are frequently used when Senate confirmation is not possible.

Specific senators had blocked or refused to consider the confirmations of the nominees for various reasons, including questions about their qualifications. But in the most high-profile case, that of the new envoy to Syria, Robert Ford, a number of senators objected because they believed sending an ambassador to the country would reward it for bad behavior.

The administration had argued that returning an ambassador to Syria after a five-year absence would help persuade Syria to change its policies regarding Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and support for extremist groups. Syria is designated a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department.

President George W. Bush's administration withdrew a full-time ambassador from Syria in 2005 after terrorism accusations and to protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, killed in a Beirut truck bombing that his supporters blamed on Syria. Syria denied involvement.

Obama nominated Ford, a career diplomat and a former ambassador to Algeria, to the post in February but his nomination stalled after his confirmation hearings and was never voted on.

The other Obama nominees announced Wednesday are Matthew Bryza for Azerbaijan, Norman Eisen for the Czech Republic and Francis Ricciardone for Turkey.

Bryza, a career diplomat, was opposed by some in the Armenian-American community because of comments he made in his previous position as deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs while trying to negotiate an end to the Nargorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The nomination of Ricciardone, another career diplomat who served as ambassador to Egypt during the Bush administration, had been held up by outgoing Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who had concerns about his work in promoting democracy while he was stationed in Cairo.

The nomination of Eisen, a lawyer who has worked in the Obama White House on ethics and reform, was being held up by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who said the nominee had made misrepresentations to Congress about the firing of a federal official.

The recess appointments mean the six people can serve in their jobs through the end of 2011, when the Senate finishes its term. A recess appointment ends at the completion of the next Senate session or when a person is nominated and confirmed to the job, whichever comes first.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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