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Mukasey Hearing Getting Good Karma

Maybe it's the karma in the air from the Dalai Lama's visit to the Capitol, but everything is so peaceful this time around in 216 Hart, the room where Michael B. Mukasey is undergoing his confirmation hearing for attorney general.

In the same room, almost six months ago to the day, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales strutted before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was beaten down for roughly six hours in bipartisan fashion, culminating with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) telling Gonzales to resign. It took another four months for Gonzales to heed Coburn's call, but today both sides of the dais are in mutual agreement that, if nothing else, Mukasey will be far better than Gonzales.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) set the tone for the hearing by threatening to throw any protestors out, a direct threat to the group of anti-war liberals from the Code Pink group who regularly attend these hearings to protest the Justice Department's anti-terror policies. Back during the Gonzales hearing, Leahy let the Code Pink protestors run rough-shod over Gonzales, regularly yelling at him during breaks and holding up signs during the hearing.

With that a serious, sober and largely laudatory hearing began, completely uninterrupted by the protestors or any of the sharp exchanges that marked the Gonzales appearances before the panel. The toughest early exchange came when Leahy repeatedly tried to cut off Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who as a home-state native with Mukasey introduced him to the committee. "I don't mean to cut you off, but we're going to have to have a break because of the Dalai Lama. Are you going to take much longer?" Leahy asked, prompting Schumer to assure him it would be just another 30 seconds. Leahy tried two more times to cut his Democratic colleague off before Schumer finally yielded.

Mukasey set a much different tone than Gonzales, who six months ago kicked off his hearing by starting a verbal fight with Specter. Mukasey concluded his brief remarks by saying the Justice Department's relationship with the Judiciary Committee is "vital" and told the senators he "will always appreciate and welcome your advice."

Under questioning from senators, Mukasey provided what could be considered a mixed bag of answers that were both appealing to Democrats and reassuring to Republicans. Here are four examples of this bob and weave:

• Mukasey hit a home run with Republicans and Democrats alike with his proposed handling of U.S. attorneys and prosecutions of political figures, saying that they would be handled based purely on the law and not because of any political pressures. "Politics, partisan politics, plays no part in bringing charges or the timing of bringing charges," he said, vowing to avoid any such prosecutions that would help the presidential campaign of his good friend, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
• He refused to say how he would handle contempt of Congress charges against White House officials, which both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees are considering because of President Bush's refusal to turn over any documents and allowing only limited testimony of his former aides in the panels' U.S. attorney probes. Mukasey seemed to indicate he sided with Gonzales and other Bush administration officials by saying a contempt charge against aides might not be "reasonable" if they were told by the White House not to cooperate. "That person cited for contempt can't be found to have had the state of mind necessary to warrant charging her or him with criminal contempt," he said, before adding that he had not made up his mind.
• He said the prison camp for captured alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has given the United States a "black eye" in international circles because "we're detaining people apparently without end." However, he stopped short of saying he would demand the prison be closed: "I think I am prepared to say that we need to get the best advice and the best ideas that we can and act responsibly, with the goal of closing it down because it's hurting us. That I'm prepared to say."
• He has generally declined to address the legality of a warrantless wiretapping program used to monitor alleged terrorists on U.S. soil, which became a key issue of Gonzales's July appearance before the committee and prompted calls for a perjury investigation. Mukasey vowed to start a new review of all the legal justifications for the controversial anti-terror issues of the past half decade, but said that at this time he could not talk about the program commonly referred to as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" because he had not yet been "read in on it." "I am not familiar with that program," he said. "I can't possibly be."

By Paul Kane  |  October 17, 2007; 3:19 PM ET
Categories:  Hearing Watch , Senate  
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