Bush stands behind Mukasey, criticizes impossible standards
Calls Democrats beholden to MoveOn.org
President Bush on Nov. 1 warned Democrats that if they do not confirm his attorney general nominee, Michael B. Mukasey, the U.S. might have no attorney general for the remainder of his term.
The president painted the nomination as a key part of the war on terror during two talks in a day during which two of the Democratic Party’s most prominent senators publicly announced their opposition to the Mukasey nomination based on his unwillingness to declare an interrogation technique called “waterboarding” to be torture and thus illegal.
Mr. Bush, while refusing to discuss or confirm any techniques, said Mr. Mukasey has not been briefed on classified government interrogation programs and should not be expected to give his legal opinion about such things.
“It’s wrong for congressional leaders to make Judge Mukasey’s confirmation dependent on his willingness to go on the record about the details of a classified program he has not been briefed on,” Mr. Bush said in an afternoon speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Mr. Bush already had spoken to a small group of reporters in the morning and in both venues framed the need to confirm Mr. Mukasey, who was a federal judge in New York for 18 years and presided over a handful of high-profile terrorism
cases, in the broader context of the war against terrorism.
“If the Senate Judiciary Committee were to block Judge Mukasey on these grounds, they would set a new standard for confirmation that could not be met by any responsible nominee for attorney general,” he said. “That would guarantee that America would have no attorney general during this time of war.”
Democratic senators originally appeared ready to confirm Mr. Mukasey, but his answers to waterboarding questions have caused several to say they will vote against him, the two latest being Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, both of Massachusetts.
Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Mukasey’s answers indicate that he “lacks ei- ther the judgment or the independence that the Department of Justice desperately needs.”
“I, therefore, intend to oppose this nomination,” he said on the Senate floor.
Mr. Kennedy became the fourth of the 10 Democrats on the 19-member Judiciary Committee to say he would vote against confirming Mr. Mukasey, joining Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.
The next Judiciary hearing on Mr. Mukasey is scheduled for Nov. 6. The announcement note from Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said senators should “be prepared to debate the nomination and vote.”
Mr. Kerry, who is not a Judiciary member, said he is “not comfortable confirming anyone who cannot see that this method of interrogation is antithetical to American values and traditions.”
Waterboarding is a technique that simulates drowning by placing a cloth over a detainee’s face and pouring water down his throat and has been used on detainees at least three times, according to reports.
Mr. Mukasey, in a four-page letter sent to senators Oct. 30, said he finds waterboarding “on a personal basis, repugnant” but added that “the actual facts and circumstances are critical” to whether such an interrogation practice is or was illegal.
He cited U.S. code in defining torture as any action “intended to cause severe physical pain or suffering, or prolonged mental harm resulting from certain specified threats or acts.” Another standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court would be any activity that “shocks the conscience,” Mr. Mukasey said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, told reporters that if the Judiciary Committee does not approve the nomination, he could not guarantee a floor vote.
Mr. Bush could appoint an attorney general while Congress is in recess, which would not require Senate confirmation for the 14 months left in his presidency or could even have no attorney general, with someone overseeing the Justice Department in an acting capacity only.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said she didn’t “believe it would come to that,” but she reiterated the president’s words that “no nominee could meet” the standard that Democrats are applying to Mr. Mukasey.
In his afternoon speech to about 250 people at Heritage, Mr. Bush said that the aggressive questioning techniques that he has authorized the CIA to use “are safe, they are lawful, and they are necessary,” prompting applause from the crowd at the conservative think tank. He also blasted the Democrats as beholden to antiwar, liberal interest groups and disloyal to the U.S. mili- tary and the safety of the American people.
“When it comes to funding our troops, some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the requests of our commanders on the ground, and less time responding to the demands of MoveOn.org bloggers and Code Pink protesters,” Mr. Bush said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is often cited as one of the most sympathetic to left-wing groups, did not directly respond to the president’s charge but did say his remarks were “beneath the dignity of the office that he holds.”
“And I don’t want to go there with him,” the California Democrat said.
Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin shot back later in the day that her group represents “the majority of Americans” and that Mr. Bush has always surrounded himself in a “bubble of true believers” to avoid reality.