This is an editorial from the NY Times today. I hope tough questions are asked, and discernment, logic, and intelligence are exercised here.
Pressing Mr. Mukasey
Michael Mukasey, President Bush’s nominee to be attorney general, is being promoted as a compromise candidate. When he appears before the Senate today for a confirmation hearing, he should not be waved through. Senators should press him on how he intends to turn around a badly compromised Justice Department, and on a few troubling aspects of his record, before deciding whether to confirm him.
Alberto Gonzales left behind a Justice Department that is not worthy of the name. Prosecutions were launched to help Republican candidates win elections. Lawyers were hired for nonpolitical jobs based on their politics and their sworn loyalty to the White House. The department — which is supposed to defend the Constitution — cheered on the Bush administration’s unconstitutional tactics in the war on terror.
Mr. Mukasey has a good reputation as a lawyer and a judge. But that is not enough. The Senate needs to know what he intends to do to set the Justice Department right. Will he lead an investigation of the still-festering United States attorneys scandal? Will he cooperate with Congressional investigators, make documents available and seek to obtain testimony from Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, who have made baseless claims of executive privilege?
How will he ensure that his staff’s loyalty is to justice, not to the president’s political team — especially since many of the top lawyers are “loyal Bushies” hired by the old regime?
Mr. Mukasey should be asked what he thinks about holding detainees indefinitely in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and denying them habeas corpus rights. He should be made to explain which interrogation techniques he considers to be torture. He should be asked what he intends to do to end illegal domestic spying programs and whether he would turn over to Congress all of the documents relating to these policies.
If Mr. Mukasey is confirmed, it is likely that he would be responsible for enforcing federal law during the 2008 election. What will he do to ensure that the right of minorities to vote is protected and that the department is not used, as it has been recently, to pursue false charges of voter fraud?
Senators also need to ask Mr. Mukasey about his own record. Before his nomination, Mr. Mukasey agreed to advise Rudolph Giuliani’s presidential campaign. There have been reports that Bernard Kerik, who was Mr. Giuliani’s police commissioner, may be facing federal criminal charges, which could be damaging to the former New York mayor’s candidacy. Would Mr. Mukasey recuse himself from the matter?
Mr. Mukasey should be asked about some troubling statements that he has made in his writings, including his strange assertion that the structure of the Constitution means that the government “should receive from its citizens the benefit of the doubt,” something it is doubtful the Founders believed.
Senate Democrats are so pleased that Mr. Bush did not choose someone worse that many are rushing to embrace Mr. Mukasey. That cannot be enough of a reason to confirm him. The White House, and a shamelessly politicized Justice Department, have done too much damage to the Constitution and the nation, and the Congress has shamefully gone along. The Senate can now show that it takes its advice-and-consent role seriously by asking Mr. Mukasey tough questions about how he would fix these problems, and by laying down clear markers for how it expects him to do his job.