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Obama nominee withdraws amid Republican opposition

By Ross Colvin and Jim Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel withdrew her name from consideration on Friday after Republicans strongly opposed her nomination.

The White House said Obama accepted Dawn Johnsen's request to withdraw her bid for confirmation after it became clear that Republicans in the Senate would not allow her to be confirmed.

"After years of politicization of the office during the previous administration, the president believes it is time for the Senate to move beyond politics and allow the Office of Legal Counsel to serve the role it was intended to -- to provide impartial legal advice and constitutional analysis to the executive branch," said White House spokesman Ben LaBolt.

Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor who served as acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Bill Clinton, had repeatedly criticized the Bush administration's use of harsh methods to interrogate suspected terrorists.

Johnsen also argued strongly in favor of abortion rights and was the legal director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League from 1988-93.

In a statement in March, Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee singled out Johnsen's views on abortion and the war on terrorism, saying her "record of extremism and partisanship makes her completely inappropriate to lead the Office of Legal Counsel."

"Even in a Senate as committed to partisan pursuits as this majority has been, Dawn Johnsen's nomination was a bridge too far," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday.

"There was bipartisan opposition to this nominee and we welcome the withdrawal," he said.

Johnsen said in a statement that the Office of Legal Counsel must provide advice "unvarnished by politics or partisan ambition." In her new role, she had hoped to restore the office "to its best nonpartisan traditions."

"Unfortunately, my nomination has met with lengthy delays and political opposition that threaten that objective and prevent OLC from functioning at full strength," she said.

The White House's LaBolt praised Johnsen as a highly respected constitutional scholar.

"Her credentials are exemplary and her commitment to the rule of law has been proven time and again, but it is now clear that Senate Republicans will not allow her to be confirmed.

Obama is working on naming a replacement and will call on the Senate to act swiftly to confirm the nominee, he said.