Judiciary panel votes to recommend Mukasey’s confirmation to full Senate
By: AP, staff reports
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Judiciary Committee advanced Attorney General designate Michael Mukasey’s nomination to the Senate floor today, virtually ensuring confirmation for a former judge ensnarled in bitter controversy over terrorism-era prisoner interrogations.
The 11-8 vote came only after two key Democrats accepted his assurance to enforce any law Congress might enact against waterboarding.
However, committee Chairman Patrick Leahy called Mukasey’s promise disingenuous. “Unsaid, of course, is the fact that any such prohibition would have to be enacted over the veto of this president,” said Leahy, D-Vt.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, who suggested Mukasey to the White House in the first place, countered that the nominee’s statements against waterboarding and for purging politics from the Justice Department amount to the best deal Democrats could get from the Bush administration.
“If we block Judge Mukasey’s nomination and then learn in six months that waterboarding has continued unabated, that victory will seem much less valuable,” he wrote in an op-ed in today’s editions of The New York Times.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said her vote for Muksaey’s confirmation came down in part to practicality. If Mukasey’s nomination were killed, she said, Bush would install an acting attorney general not subject to Senate confirmation and make recess appointments to fill nearly a dozen other empty jobs at the top of Justice.
“I don’t believe a leaderless department is in the best interests of the American people or of the department itself,” Feinstein said. Bush, she added, “appointed this man because he believes he is mainstream.”
Support for Mukasey from Schumer and Feinstein virtually assured the former federal judge the majority vote he needed to be favorably recommended by the 19-member committee. He was expected to win confirmation handily, and the vote is likely before Thanksgiving.
Many Democrats came out in opposition to Mukasey after he refused to say unequivocably that so-called waterboarding — an interrogation technique that makes the victim believe he is drowning — is tantamount to torture and thus illegal under domestic and international law.
Mukasey rankled Democrats during his confirmation hearing by saying he was not familiar with the waterboarding technique and could not say whether it was torture.
Even Sen. Arlen Specter, the panel’s ranking Republican, called that explanation “a flimsy excuse” and suggested instead that Muksaey declined to call waterboarding illegal torture because he wanted to avoid putting at legal risk U.S. officials who may have engaged in the practice.
But Specter, of Pennsylvania, said that outlawing waterboarding rests with Congress. He revealed that he had talked with Mukasey a day earlier and received an assurance that the nominee would back up any such legislation and quit if Bush ignores his opinion.
Thus, Specter said, Mukasey had won his support.
Legal experts cautioned that if Mukasey called it torture, that effectively could have constituted an admission that the United States engaged in war crimes. It could also commit him to prosecuting U.S. officials even before he takes office.
Published in The Messenger 11.06.07