James M. Cole

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James Cole
James M Cole.jpg
35th United States Deputy Attorney General
In office
December 29, 2010 – January 8, 2015
President Barack Obama
Preceded by David W. Ogden
Succeeded by Sally Yates
Personal details
Born (1952-05-02) May 2, 1952 (age 65)
Evanston, Illinois, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of Colorado
UC Hastings College of Law
Website Government website

James Michael Cole[1] (born May 2, 1952) is an American attorney who served as United States Deputy Attorney General from December 29, 2010 to January 8, 2015. He was first installed as Deputy Attorney General following a recess appointment by President Barack Obama on December 29, 2010.[2] He then was confirmed by the United States Senate in a 55–42 vote on June 28, 2011.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Cole earned a bachelor's degree in 1975 from the University of Colorado Denver and a law degree from the UC Hastings College of the Law in 1979.[4]

Professional career[edit]

Cole worked in the United States Department of Justice for 13 years, from 1979 until 1992, when he entered private practice.[5] During his time in the DOJ's Public Integrity Section, Cole successfully prosecuted two federal judges on corruption charges, including Judge Robert Frederick Collins in 1991.[1] Even after leaving the DOJ, Cole remained involved in matters related to the federal government, serving in 1996 and 1997 as the special counsel to the United States House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (known as the House Ethics Committee) during the investigation of Newt Gingrich on ethics violations.[1]

Cole was a partner at the law firm Bryan Cave LLP from 1995 until December 2010.[6]

In 2004, Cole and his law firm were hired as part of a 2004 agreement with the government to monitor AIG's regulatory compliance, financial reporting, whistle-blower protection and employee retention policies, submitting confidential reports to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.[7]

After serving as Deputy Attorney General, Cole moved to Sidley Austin, where he was made partner.[8]

Deputy Attorney General[edit]

On May 21, 2010, President Obama nominated Cole for the position of Deputy Attorney General to replace David W. Ogden, who returned to private law practice.[5] Senate Republicans blocked a confirmation vote on Cole throughout 2010.[9] Cole had been waiting five months for a Senate vote on his nomination, the longest delay to fill that position in the 30 years.[9] Cole received a recess appointment to the position from Obama on December 29, 2010.[2]

On May 5, 2011, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed for cloture of Cole's nomination on which a roll call vote was held on May 9, 2011. The motion, which required 60 votes to be agreed to, was rejected by a vote of 50-40 with 10 Senators not voting.[10]

On June 23, 2011, Reid announced on the Senate floor that a full Senate vote on Cole's nomination would take place on June 28, 2011.[3] Earlier in the week, Reid had reached a unanimous consent agreement with Republican leaders in the Senate to pave the way for a vote on the nominations of Cole and two other nominees to Department of Justice positions without the need for another cloture vote.[11] The Senate then confirmed Cole in a 55–42 vote on June 28, 2011.

On June 29, 2011, Cole authored a letter expressing the federal government's new policy regarding the enforcement of marijuana offenses in states which have medical marijuana laws. This memo effectively rescinded the previous mandate directing federal resources only for those not compliant with state law. The new policy disregards state law compliance and instead authorizes enforcement on all "persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling, or distributing marijuana and those who knowingly facilitate such activities".

In August 2011 Cole announced that the Department of Justice would file suit to prevent AT&T acquiring T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom, saying that would lead to "tens of millions of consumers in the United States facing higher prices, poorer quality services, fewer choices, and lower quality products for their mobile wireless service."[12] AT&T subsequently withdrew its application for Federal Communications Commission approval of the deal.[13]

Attorney General Eric Holder said that Cole "ultimately authorized the subpoena" to secretly obtain phone records from The Associated Press.[14]

In February 2012, Joseph Rannazzisi, chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Office of Diversion Control, issued immediate suspension orders against Cardinal Health's supply of oxycodone to suspected pill mills.[8] Deputy Attorney General Cole then called Rannazzisi to a meeting at Justice Department headquarters where Cole warned him "it made good sense to listen to what Cardinal had to say".[8] Rannazzisi was fired from the drug diversion office in August 2015.[8] Cardinal was never fined.[8]

In a 2014 meeting, Cole said a new encryption policy for iMessage would hinder criminal investigations.[15]

August 2013 "Cole Memo"[edit]

On August 29, 2013, the Department of Justice published a memorandum authored by Cole which described a new set of priorities for federal prosecutors operating in states which had legalized the medical or other adult use of marijuana.[16] The "Cole memo" followed a 2009 memorandum from Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden directing U.S. Attorneys in the Western United States to "not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana".[17] The 2013 memorandum represented a significant shift of government priorities away from strict enforcement of federal cannabis prohibition and toward a more hands-off approach in the case of "jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form and that have also implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale and possession of marijuana." Indeed, Cole's memo went so far as to state that "a robust system may affirmatively address [federal] priorities by, for example, implementing effective measures to prevent diversion of marijuana outside the regulated system and to other states, prohibiting access to marijuana by minors, and replacing an illicit marijuana trade that funds criminal enterprises with a tightly regulated market in which revenues are tracked and accounted for." Since that date, although federal prosecutions have continued in some legalizing states (notably in the Kettle Falls Five case), the overall number of federal marijuana prosecutions in such states has declined. In August, 2017, a Justice Department task force headed by Michael Murray, Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein,[18] drafted a report with "no new policy recommendations" recommending that the Trump Administration Attorney General "should evaluate whether to maintain, revise or rescind" the Cole Memo and other Obama-era decisions.[19]


  1. ^ a b c Lewis, Neil A. (January 18, 1997). "James Cole: In the Middle of the Ethics Storm, a Very Calm Eye". The New York Times. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Rozen, Laura (December 29, 2010). "White House announces recess appointments". Politico. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-11-26. Retrieved 2012-05-22. 
  4. ^ http://www.bryancave.com/jmcole/
  5. ^ a b "Obama taps Clinton vet". Politico. May 21, 2010. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  6. ^ http://thepage.time.com/obama-to-nominate-james-m-cole-as-deputy-ag/.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  7. ^ Johnston, Nicholas; Blum, Justin (May 21, 2010). "Obama Said to Pick Lawyer Cole for No. 2 Justice Job". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Lenny Bernstein; Scott Higham (22 October 2016). "Investigation: The DEA slowed enforcement while the opioid epidemic grew out of control". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  9. ^ a b "James Cole appointed to deputy AG job; new ambassador dispatched to Syria". The Washington Post. 
  10. ^ U.S. Senate Roll Call Vote #67, 112th Congress, 1st Session, May 9, 2011
  11. ^ http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/executive_calendar/xcalv.pdf
  12. ^ Department Of Justice Files To Block AT&T/T-Mobile Deal, Forbes, August 31, 2011.
  13. ^ AT&T withdraws T-Mobile merger plan from FCC
  14. ^ Levine, Mike (2013-05-14). "Holder says AP probe handled by deputy after he recused himself". Fox News. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  15. ^ Barnet, Devlin; Danny Yardon (2014-11-18). "Apple and Others Encrypt phones, Fuelling Government Standoff". Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  16. ^ "Cole memo" (PDF). medicalmarijuana.procon.org. ProCon. Retrieved 24 April 2015. 
  17. ^ Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. et al. (December 16, 2015), States of Nebraska and Oklahoma, plaintiffs v. State of Colorado - on motion for leave to file a bill of complaint brief for the United States as amicus curiae (PDF), United States Department of Justice 
  18. ^ Steven Nelson (July 13, 2017), "Federal Pot Policy in Hands of Little-Known DOJ Official: A proposal on what to do about state-legal pot is due in two weeks", US News 
  19. ^ Sadie Gurman (August 5, 2017), Huff, puff, pass? AG's pot fury not echoed by task force, Associated Press 

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Gary Grindler
United States Deputy Attorney General
Succeeded by
Sally Quillian Yates