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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Mukasey “Answers” to Senate Judiciary Committee

Attorney General Michael Mukasey is likely receiving high marks from President Bush. Only eight months into his brief tenure helming the Department of Justice, Mukasey has thoroughly mastered the evasion and doublespeak that has become the modus operandi of so many Bush administration officials. Mukasey’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee is strong evidence that the culture of subversion and occlusion is still vibrant within the highest ranks of the Bush administration.

The committee called Mukasey to testify about allegations of politicization at the Justice Department. Quick to note that he wasn’t in office when the alleged offenses occurred, Mukasey reiterated his promise to eliminate any political considerations from future policymaking. But several Senators recalled another promise Mukasey made during his confirmation hearings: that he would resign if President Bush refused to follow the law.

The alleged offenses, which include ignoring federal law on wiretapping, politicized hiring and firing to career (non-political) DOJ positions, selective prosecutions, selective tax enforcement, politicization of the Civil Rights Division, politicized hiring of Immigration Judges, and cowing to pressure from the White House, if true, are not merely illegal: they represent an expansion of executive power to near-authoritarian dimensions. And yet, for all his promises that the Department of Justice would once again become a department of justice, Mukasey was peculiarly reticent when pressed to investigate the role high-ranking administration officials played in authorizing (and perhaps encouraging) these practices.

Mukasey seems bent on providing the administration with an impenetrable shroud of plausible deniability to cover its gross abuses. He refused to order an investigation into the administration’s role in authorizing torture of detainees. He refused to acknowledge that we have an interest in knowing whether the Office of Professional Responsibility uncovers misconduct by Department attorneys -- he appears to be more concerned with the professional reputations of the offenders. He refused to hold Office of Legal Counsel attorneys accountable for crafting bad faith justifications for torture even if that advice is unsubstantiated and permeated by politics. He has even denied that the president is bound by his own executive orders. Over and over again, Mukasey refuses to take responsibility for cleaning up past messes and, as Senator Biden said, acts like he “float[s] above in the ether somewhere.”

For a man who is charged with representing the people of the United States, Attorney General Michael Mukasey displays an insufferably high degree of unquestioning loyalty to President Bush. He has a duty to order a full investigation into these allegations, regardless of where the buck stops. It is simply unacceptable for our nation’s highest prosecutor to respond to allegations of patently illegal activity by the president’s inner circle with a blank stare of apathy.

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