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Mukasey's Prospects Uncertain as Reid Criticizes His Stand on Torture

Making confirmation prospects even more uncertain, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today denounced Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey's refusal to comment on the legality of harsh CIA interrogation techniques while Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) announced his opposition to the nomination.

Reid said he was withholding his official position on the nomination, but he strongly signaled that he would vote against Mukasey if his nomination is sent to the floor by the Judiciary Committee. Reid voiced displeasure with a four-page letter the retired federal judge sent to the committee's 10 Democrats this week, in which he said he does not know whether a type of simulated drowning called waterboarding constitutes illegal torture under U.S. law.

"I don't think it's much of a secret how I feel about this whole thing. ... I think people know how I feel," Reid said. After beginning to walk away, Reid pivoted back to take another shot at Mukasey's legal rationale: "If there were ever any indication why people dislike lawyers, read the letter he wrote to us. It was so lawyer-like no one knew what he was saying."

In the letter Mukasey called waterboarding "repugnant" but could not determine whether it was torture and therefore unconstitutional. The judge noted that he has not been given clearance to review all the interrogation programs practiced by the military and CIA officers of terrorism suspects.

The Judiciary Committee, scheduled to meet next week on the attorney general nomination, is divided 10 to 9 along party lines. Because all the Republican members appear inclined to support Mukasey to succeed Alberto Gonzales, Mukasey needs the support of just one Democrat on the committeee. Four of the Judiciary Committee Democrats are now opposed to Mukasey.

Another key Democrat, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, said that he would announce his position at a press conference in his home state of Vermont tomorrow. But he continued to criticize the positions of Mukasey, after predicting just two and a half weeks ago that the nomination would sail through.

Kennedy, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, delivered a stinging floor speech at midday. "He has the credentials and many of the capabilities to be a strong Attorney General," Kennedy said. "But talent and experience are not all that's required for the job. The Attorney General of the United States must also be a person with an unbending commitment to justice, fairness, and equality, who will stand up for America's laws and values, even when the White House tries to steer the Department in the other direction."

As a sign of the growing momentum against Mukasey, Kennedy's speech came about 19 hours after he told reporters Wednesday evening he would not announce his position until Monday, after he spent the weekend reviewing hundreds of pages of testimony and written answers to follow-up questions. Kennedy had missed the Oct. 17-18 hearings on Mukasey while he was home in Boston recovering from artery surgery.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who urged President Bush to nominate Mukasey, refused to answer any questions about the nominee at a press conference held by Democratic leaders. Reid had to jump in at least twice to deflect questions away from Schumer.

Schumer is one of several Democrats on the committee whose votes will be critical on Tuesday, when the nomination is slated to be voted on by the panel. Another is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who recently broke ranks with Democrats on the committee to support a controversial Bush nominee to the federal appellate court.

If the nomination makes it to the Senate floor, it would appear to have a razor-thin margin for confirmation if all 49 Republicans back Mukasey. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) told Capitol Briefing today that he still supports Mukasey, his old Yale Law school classmate. "You've got to judge the overall record of the person," he said.

That would be the 50 votes needed, along with Vice President Cheney's tie-breaking vote, to win a floor battle. Many other moderate-to-conservative Democrats are voicing deep doubts about the nomination. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who has been a steadfast supporter of almost every Bush nominee, has scheduled a meeting with Mukasey for early next week.

Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) said he has "grave concerns" about Mukasey's waterboarding views. Sens. Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) both raised questions about whether Mukasey's waterboarding answers were signs that he would be too deferential to the White House, and thus little improvement over Gonzales. "I have my doubts so far from what I've read that he can discharge that responsibility," Casey said.

By Paul Kane  |  November 1, 2007; 3:44 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

To use an unfortunate pun, this is a "slam dunk" for the Democrats, if they have the courage. Why complain so loudly about the obstructionist AG Gonzales, then approve a nominee who has signaled that he will do about the same as his predecessor? The AG is supposed to defend the Constitution, not the travesty of government that is the Bush administration! This is the only time that the Dems will have any leverage over Mukasey, and this is not a time to shirk the responsibility that the voters trusted them to carry out. I'll say it again: Why fear Bin Laden's desire to destroy America when the Democrats can do the same thing through their inaction?

Posted by: D. L. Foster | November 1, 2007 6:26 PM | Report abuse

For a learned man, Mukasey is sounding stupid. Any average person with a modicum of reading on history, even fiction, would know that waterboarding is torture. Hasn't Mukasey peeked at the Nuremberg trials? What kind of highly educated lawyer is this? What a disappointment! Bush is a truly horrible president who has corrupted almost all levels of government.

Posted by: M. Stratas | November 1, 2007 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Harry Reid is a useless, ineffective old man who needs to go back to Nevada. Why the democrats selected this idiot to lead the Senate is a mystery. Did you really expect any of the dumcrats to approve this appointment? More of the same caterwauling and obstruction!

Posted by: willig6 | November 1, 2007 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Everyone ready for "bend over" Reid? Oooh, he talks tough, but always capitulates in the end.

And Feinstein is holding out for more money before she caves and votes for Mukasey. It's got little or nothing to do with what is right for the country.

Bush/Cheney, the republicans and the wimpocrats are far more dangerous to our constitution and our country than some bearded arabic dudes in Asia somewhere.

Posted by: poggy | November 1, 2007 9:22 PM | Report abuse

Mukasey will withdraw this weekend.

He is thinking about historical legacy and his personal reputation-- it is not the opposition in the Senate. He and his family are realizing that to become associated with this administration is akin to jumping into a corrupt cesspool.

From a historical perspective, this administration will be the dark point of the American democracy experiment... the ugly Fascist Mussolini and Franco-like regime of the US.


Posted by: erict | November 1, 2007 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Mukasey is a true patriot. All the "Liberals" say nobody has been asked to sacrifice in this "War on Terror".

How wrong are they? Mukasey has been asked to sacrifice his convictions, his shame and his spine for the good of his country. He has risen to the challenge!

As long as we have at least 40 Mukaseyesque filibuster patriots in the Senate and enough patriots in the house to uphold vetoes, our country will stay free!!!! When those congressional patriots fall, well, I don't know, but it won't be good, at least not for the big business interests that power our beloved GOP.

Stay strong Mukasey, stay strong. Waterboarding, hah! Just wait until you get to be AG and can read the classified stuff that tells what we REALLY do to terrorists.

Posted by: Steve Boyington | November 1, 2007 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Isn't Mukasey right on the procedural question? Let's say waterboarding is torture, which I think is likely true -- or cruel and inhuman at the very least. He should no more be asked to announce his decision as a condition of being confirmed than a judge should answer at a confirmation hearing how she would rule in a particular case likely to come before the court. The approach favored by McCain et al., namely that Mukasey be confirmed and then as A G declare the illegality of waterboarding, is the correct approach IMHO.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 1, 2007 10:51 PM | Report abuse

Mukasey plans to circumvent the rule of law. Expanding Presidential powers to stand above constitutional statutes.
Vote Against Mukasey & His Legal Opinions
------> http://www.youpolls.com/details.asp?pid=837
.

Posted by: PollM | November 2, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

The Democrats are again torturing another Bush nominee for no reason. According to Ron Kessler, NewsMax Washington correspondent, waterboarding has only been used three times, the last four years ago. He says with so much attention brought to it terrorists won't react to waterboarding which is painless. In the last two years Congress had two chances to vote against waterboarding but declined. So what's all the fuss about?

Posted by: woody anderson | November 2, 2007 10:47 AM | Report abuse

If Mukasey can't think for himself, he doesn't deserve the job. It seems he has to wait for the Whine House to tell him what to think.

And, to reinforce his lack of qualification for the office, he is a long time friend of the former mayor of my city who shall remain nameless. That is not exactly a confidence-builder.

And, speaking of others being told by the WH what to think, add the NewsMax 5th columnst Ron Kessler.

Posted by: wideyed1 | November 2, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Mukasey has been nominated to be the Attorney General, not a judge. As the lawyer for the United States, his function is to provide opinions on the legality of proposed actions by the government -- not to sit in judgement after the fact like a jurist. ALL of the questions he is to be asked in his would-be official capacity are prospective, i.e., hypothetical. There is absolutely nothing to prevent him from answering the simple question of whether waterboarding is torture, particularly since he presumably has no knowledge of whether it is a practice which is currently engaged in or not.

None of us, regardless of our view on the appropriateness of the use of torture, fail to recognize waterboarding as torture. Thus, his refusal to answer such a simple question can only mean that he is willing to defer to the polictal interests of the White House rather than uphold the laws and Constitution of the nation.

Posted by: Stonecreek | November 2, 2007 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Mukasey may be a good lawyer... maybe even a nice fella, but if Bush (the shrub) likes him, then I don't want him on the Supreme Court. Let's not approve a nominee until after January 20, 2009. Then we may have have some chance of getting a good SC Justice.

Posted by: doubtingdon | November 2, 2007 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Doubting don, is Mukasey going to be the first person who is simultaneously Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice? That would certainly present some 'seperation of powers' issues...

Posted by: Patrick Huss | November 2, 2007 6:29 PM | Report abuse

The Constitution is dead. Long live tyranny.

Posted by: massimo | November 5, 2007 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Diane Feinstein is the next Liberman. California Democrats need to vote her out.

Posted by: Lee | November 5, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Mukasey has declared waterboarding "repugnant"--you know, disagreeable, like whipped cream on your fried pork-rinds. Senators who share his taste cannot bring themselves to repudiate all torture should put a tit in a wringer when they vote.
Senators Feinstein and Schumer collaborate with torturers. They won't prove sincerity by being waterboarded, because they fear it might make them tell the truth, and you know how hypocrites fear that more than the Hell they pave the road to.
Thank McCain for guts.
Thank Kennedy for forthrightness.
Write Leahy to do what he should and waht is expected.
Write Reid to stiffen his resolve.

Posted by: Philip Dow (Napa, CA) | November 5, 2007 1:54 PM | Report abuse

It's plain and simple and easy to understand.....waterboarding is torture. Attorney General nominee Mukasey needs to say exactly what he thinks about the use of waterboarding. He needs to say whether or not he considers it torture. The man needs to stand up and say what he feels. He needs to think for himself. That's not asking too much from any person who might find themselves a nominee for the position of Attorney General.

The Attorney General of The United States should put the welfare of the American people and his/her determination to up hold the Constitution ahead of any personal partisan politics. If Mukasey is not willing to do that then he shouldn't be the Attorney General.

Posted by: Lawrence | November 6, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

It's plain and simple and easy to understand.....waterboarding is torture. Attorney General nominee Mukasey needs to say exactly what he thinks about the use of waterboarding. He needs to say whether or not he considers it torture. The man needs to stand up and say what he feels. He needs to think for himself. That's not asking too much from any person who might find themselves a nominee for the position of Attorney General.

The Attorney General of The United States should put the welfare of the American people and his/her determination to up hold the Constitution ahead of any personal partisan politics. If Mukasey is not willing to do that then he shouldn't be the Attorney General.

Posted by: Lawrence | November 6, 2007 8:56 AM | Report abuse

It's plain and simple and easy to understand.....waterboarding is torture. Attorney General nominee Mukasey needs to say exactly what he thinks about the use of waterboarding. He needs to say whether or not he considers it torture. The man needs to stand up and say what he feels. He needs to think for himself. That's not asking too much from any person who might find themselves a nominee for the position of Attorney General.

The Attorney General of The United States should put the welfare of the American people and his/her determination to up hold the Constitution ahead of any personal partisan politics. If Mukasey is not willing to do that then he shouldn't be the Attorney General.

Posted by: Lawrence | November 6, 2007 8:57 AM | Report abuse

I have written Schumer, and Feinstein seems to have shut down her website in embarrassment. What are these pandering phonies doing in the halls of congress?
Mukasey has said he doesn't know what water boarding is! Being lawyer, Appellate Judge and all his other qualifications must keep him so busy he hasn't read a paper or watched a news program for the past 5 years. Perhaps he needs a personal demonstration. What America doesn't need is another smiling Bush Acolyte. Enough!
If these so called deomcratic moderates approve this nomination they should be impeached. Let them know!

Posted by: dave klaboe, nyc | November 6, 2007 9:10 AM | Report abuse

I have written Schumer, and Feinstein seems to have shut down her website in embarrassment. What are these pandering phonies doing in the halls of congress?
Mukasey has said he doesn't know what water boarding is! Being lawyer, Appellate Judge and all his other qualifications must keep him so busy he hasn't read a paper or watched a news program for the past 5 years. Perhaps he needs a personal demonstration. What America doesn't need is another smiling Bush Acolyte. Enough!
If these so called deomcratic moderates approve this nomination they should be impeached. Let them know!

Posted by: dave klaboe, nyc | November 6, 2007 9:11 AM | Report abuse

It's plain and simple and easy to understand.....waterboarding is torture. Attorney General nominee Mukasey needs to say exactly what he thinks about the use of waterboarding. The man needs to stand up and say if he believes waterboarding is torture. That's not asking too much from any person who might find themselves a nominee for the position of Attorney General.

The Attorney General of The United States should put the welfare of the American people and his/her determination to up hold the Constitution ahead of any personal partisan politics. If Mukasey is not willing to do that then he shouldn't be the Attorney General.

Posted by: Lawrence | November 6, 2007 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Mukasey is just another republican turd. The people don't need the likes of him.

Posted by: sinderdj | November 6, 2007 8:46 PM | Report abuse

sinderdj....you are an idiot!!!!! Did you make it past the 3rd grade?

Posted by: aloha | November 6, 2007 11:40 PM | Report abuse

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