Leahy Set to Schedule Hearings on Mukasey

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) signaled yesterday that he will move ahead with confirmation hearings for a new attorney general later this month without reaching a deal on documents that he hoped to obtain from the White House.

But Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said that nominee Michael B. Mukasey will be confronted with a range of questions related to ongoing conflicts between Democrats and the Bush administration, including whether Mukasey would allow prosecution of White House aides for ignoring congressional subpoenas.

In a letter to the nominee released yesterday, Leahy complained that "the White House has chosen not to clear the decks of past concerns," including Democratic demands for documents and testimony about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.

"I had hoped that the White House would . . . work with us to fulfill longstanding requests for information so that we could all agree about what went so wrong at the Department of Justice and work together to restore it," Leahy wrote in the letter. "Instead, they have left you to answer the unanswered questions and left longstanding disputes unresolved."

The remarks indicated an end to Leahy's attempt to use the Mukasey nomination to pry loose sensitive information from the White House about the prosecutor firings, the government's warrantless surveillance program and other issues. Leahy's office has been in intensive negotiations with White House counsel Fred F. Fielding since President Bush named Mukasey as the nominee three weeks ago, but no agreement has been reached.

Leahy has yet to announce a date for Mukasey's confirmation hearing, though Senate aides have said it is likely to be held in the third or fourth week of this month. In his letter, Leahy invited Mukasey to a one-on-one meeting Oct. 16, suggesting that a public hearing would be held soon afterward.

Mukasey, 66, is a former Manhattan federal judge whose nomination to replace Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general has been well received by lawmakers in both parties. Mukasey has met individually with senators in recent weeks and submitted answers to a lengthy committee questionnaire on Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted Leahy yesterday for not setting a hearing date, saying that Democrats should "not hold Judge Mukasey hostage while they play partisan games." White House spokeswoman Dana Perino also urged Democrats to move ahead with the nomination.

Leahy spokeswoman Erica Chabot said the letter to Mukasey and the candidate's questionnaire "are all positive steps moving forward in the confirmation process." Several Senate aides said a hearing date could be decided as early as today.

In his letter, Leahy urged Mukasey to model himself on two attorneys general known for their independence: Elliot L. Richardson, who refused President Nixon's order to fire the Watergate special prosecutor, and Edward H. Levi, who was appointed as a reformer after Nixon resigned.

Leahy outlined the questions he expects Mukasey to answer, many of which center on the aftermath of the prosecutor firings and other controversies during Gonzales's tenure. Leahy said he will ask "whether you share my view that the integrity and independence of federal law enforcement should not be compromised by political operatives from the White House," including the Justice Department's handling of election-related investigations.

Leahy also said he would ask Mukasey whether he agreed with the Bush administration's claim that the Justice Department cannot be compelled to prosecute White House aides for defying congressional subpoenas.

The House Judiciary Committee earlier this year issued contempt citations for former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in connection with the investigation of the prosecutor removals. But administration officials have indicated they would block enforcement of contempt charges if they are approved by the House, arguing that a U.S. attorney cannot be forced to contradict a finding by the president that documents or testimony are protected by executive privilege.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company