It’s hard to envy Attorney General Michael Mukasey right about now. He has a full plate these days, juggling the aftermath of the Supreme Court's habeas decision, rampant politicization of the Department of Justice, and potential voting rights issues in the upcoming election. But any ounce of pity for the overworked and highly-scrutinized official dried up quickly during this morning’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, “Oversight of the Department of Justice." Mukasey’s preference for misleading language over reality showed itself again today, as he displayed an astonishing ability to mince words over everything from executive privilege, to Boumediene v. Bush, to illegal immigration. Hey, if Mukasey wasn't going to provide any real information anyway, it’s not surprising Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) didn’t bother administering an oath.
Oath or no oath, Attorney General Mukasey was true to form. He repeated the same tired administration lines about national security, from FISA to Boumediene, spouting the hollow conservative rhetoric that we’ve come to know and hate. He continued to evade the issue of the infamous torture memos, seeming almost to stick his fingers in his ears as he dodged questions from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) about the DoJ’s legal authority in the matter. And despite the attorney general's proposal for post-Boumediene legislation that would aggrandize executive power while undermining the judiciary, he touted a “robust separation of powers” that has been clearly absent throughout the Bush administration.
So, in light of all this, it would seem as if yesterday morning’s hearing was unsalvageable. But thanks to a little persistent questioning from Rep. Conyers, some new territory was tread. With just over 100 days to go before the presidential election, Rep. Conyers expressed his doubts that the problems that plagued the elections in 2000 and 2004 have been alleviated, and he emphasized that the DoJ has done little to show any progress in that respect. Rep. Conyers observed that the little work that has been done has been ineffective. Not to worry. Attorney General Mukasey says he and the DoJ are “doing what we can.” How comforting: he’s taking a cue from Sheryl Crow . (If only the administration would adopt her views on the environment!)
The Attorney General also exhibited a disturbing willingness to erode the First Amendment, as he vehemently opposed a bill that would protect journalists’ confidential sources, a stance even conservative Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) took issue with. But, once again, the attorney general went to his bottomless bag of rhetorical tricks, saying “Ten angels swearing on Bibles that that bill is harmless would not change the provisions that are in it.”
Although Mr. Mukasey's responses are slightly more palatable than his predecessor's incessant refrain ("I don't recall"), they provided little more useful information. It is clear that the Bush administration intends to continue its epic battle against Congressional oversight until the next president escorts them off the premises in January.