In their ongoing quest to find just the right Attorney General, President Bush has offered up his latest sacrificial lamb, retired federal judge Michael B. Mukasey. Mukasey is eminently qualified, with years on the bench and an outstanding career as a prosecutor, yet the appointment may face problems for reasons having nothing to do with Mukasey’s qualifications or suitability for the job.
He’s a perfect choice for Bush because he’s hard on terrorism, supports the PATRIOT Act and has written in defense of the Military Commissions Act. He’s attractive to mainline Republicans because he’s closely linked to primary frontrunner Rudy Giuliani, having worked under him as a prosecutor and because his son is a partner in Giuliani’s law firm. Despite all this he’s also got the stamp of approval of major Democrats including New York Senator Charles Schumer who put him on a list of recommended candidates submitted to President Bush and has endorsed him as a good choice for the job. He also has a real reputation for fairness, and has issued rulings which some democrats see as positive, including ruling that Jose Padilla was entitled to a defense attorney. He is also seen as more independent of Bush than former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) commented that he was “pleased that President Bush put aside his old habits and picked an outside professional to nominate as attorney general, rather than a member of his own circle.”
Obviously the Justice Department, which has foundered for years with some pretty weak leadership, could use a firm hand. There are actual criminals and terrorists out there who are in desperate need of some justice. It certainly looks like Mukasey might be the one to provide that justice and solve some long-standing problems, including pushing the administration to resolve the situation with the terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. However, there’s a catch. The Democrats control Congress and the Judiciary Committee and they can hold up the appointment on a whim if they choose to.
The man with the whim is arch-partisan Witchfinder General, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) who is determined not to move forward to better government until he gets his pound of flesh from Alberto Gonzales. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Leahy is in a position to delay hearings and stall the appointment if he so chooses, and he has declared that he won’t move forward until the White House provides him with documents relating to Gonzales’ “conduct, on torture and warrantless wiretapping.”
So, with no stated objection to a candidate who seems more than acceptable to other Democrats, Leahy is willing to delay Mukasey’s confirmation and leave the Justice Department rudderless so that he can pursue an investigation which can at best be described as pointless and at worst as a partisan witchhunt. It’s not like there’s any mystery about Gonzales’ past actions. Everyone knows he wrote the opinions on torture and wiretaps which the administration wanted, and fired the people they want fired. It’s all a matter of record and it’s also been clearly established that although his actions may have been venal, they were not illegal.
Leahy is basically just blackmailing the administration at the expense of the country as a whole. He’s disappointed with the amount of mileage he got out of the Gonzales hearings in the media and wants to drag that bit of partisan grandstanding out even longer. Gonzales ruined all his fun by resigning under pressure, so he’s going to carry on with his fishing expedition in the hopes of finding something to smear the administration with, no matter what the cost.
Someone ought to remind Leahy that he’s chairman of the Judiciary Committee, not the Star Chamber or the Inquisition. Reviewing and voting on presidential appointees is one of the most basic parts of his job description. Maybe that should be his primary focus, not promoting manufactured scandals for partisan advantage. Or maybe nothing is likely to derail him so long as there is some chance of distracting attention from the Norman Hsu scandal and the 260 Democrats implicated in his questionable and likely fraudulent fundraising activities.