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Posted by on Jan 31, 2008 in At TMV | 5 comments

Do the American People Deserve Better? Mukasey’s Testimony


There’s certainly an argument that we get the government we deserve.  It’s just that I feel that I personally deserve better.

About the best we can say about Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s testimony Wednesday in the Senate is that he was no Alberto Gonzales, with the frequent memory lapses and possibly intentional misstatements.
But that is a very low bar.(New York Times) 

It certainly is.  Dahlia Lithwick snarks, "Mukasey is only willing to make and defend his decisions without explaining them. Still, he is very convincing in asserting that even though his decision is secret and its rationale is secret, and all future applications are secret, he is nevertheless confident that it’s the right decision."  (Slate)    Isn’t this the conduct we’ve come to expect and take for granted whenever a Bush administration official is asked to demonstrate accountability to the public?:

Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, featuring day-long testimony from Attorney General Michael Mukasey, was extraordinary foronly one reason: for our country, what happened in the hearing is now completely ordinary….[Mukasey] is, ideologically,…as much of a loyal adherent to the Bush/Cheney extremist worldview as Gonzales ever was.

Mukasey explicitly embraces the most extreme theories of presidential omnipotence and lawlessness and displays as much Cheney-ite contempt for the notion of Congressional oversight as the Vice President himself. He repeatedly endorsed patently illegal behavior — including torture — and refused even to pretend that he cared what the Senate thought about any of it. He even told Republican Senators that they have no right to pass a whistleblower law allowing federal employees who learn of lawbreaking to inform Congress about it, because such a law would infringe on the President’s constitutional powers. In Mukasey’s worldview, the President has unlimited power and
Congress has none. (Salon: Greenwald; links in original)

An op-ed in The New York Times suggests that the American people "deserve better from their highest law-enforcement official."(New York Times)  I wonder if we do.  If so, we clearly haven’t done an effective job of conveying this to our elected representatives.

Over the course of a long, maddening day, it’s quickly manifest that
Mukasey’s legal opinions have a 30-second shelf life. He won’t opine on what’s happened in the past and he won’t opine on anything that might happen in the future. When Sen. Arlen Specter—concerned about seven years of vast new claims of executive authority—asks Mukasey whether, in his view, the president "can break any law he pleases because he’s
the president—including, say, statutes banning torture," as well as FISA and the National Security Act, Mukasey replies, "I can’t contemplate any situation in which this president would assert Article II authority to do something that the law forbids."

"Well, he did just that when he violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," Specter shoots back. Mukasey’s response? "Both of those issues have
been brought within statutes." (Slate; Lithwick

While Mukasey has taken steps to depoliticize the DOJ, he has not launched investigations into the Mukasey has launched no investigations into the previous scandal, i.e., "accusations that federal prosecutions were politicized, that
nonpolitical positions were filled with partisans and that Mr. Gonzales lied about it to Congress."(New York Times)

These serious charges did not go away simply
because Mr. Gonzales did. Mr. Mukasey needs to ensure that they are investigated, and to assure the public that any misconduct in his department has been cleaned up.(New York Times)

But testifying before the Senate, he gave "lackadaisical" responses.   "He seemed to know and care little about well-publicized charges by Scott Bloch, the chief of the Office of Special Counsel, that the Justice Department is impeding his investigation." (New York Times)

As to the refusal of certain witnesses to appear before Congress based on the president’s request to them not to appear, "[h]e suggested that if the administration believes that executive privilege shields them, that ends the matter."  (New York Times).

Admitting that he would personally regard waterboarding as torture if it were done to him, Mukasey "weaved and dodged questions from senators about whether it is torture when it is done to other people, and whether it is illegal." (New York Times)   He also pushed for telecom immunity. (New York Times)   

In the meantime, it seems that Senate Democrats are simply overcome with gratitude that Mukasey isn’t Gonzalez:

Virtually every Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee opens his or her questions to Attorney General Michael Mukasey at today’s oversight
hearing with a thank you. They thank him for appointing an outside prosecutor to investigate the destruction of the CIA torture tapes; they thank him for re-establishing appropriate boundaries between the White House and the Justice Department. They thank him for putting an end to disparate treatment of gay employees at DoJ, and for, er,
reassigning the dread U.S. attorney for Minnesota, and for his work to depoliticize the Justice Department. All of these thanks join together to form a sort of mimed Hallelujah Chorus in which all can agree that any day Alberto Gonzales isn’t the attorney general
is a good day in America.

Is this good enough for you?  It’s not good enough for me.  All we can do is sit helplessly by, hoping that Bush’s successor is prepared to clean up the mess that remains when Bush and his enablers are no longer controlling the
executive branch.