Bush Backs Attorney General Nominee

By William Branigin and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 1, 2007; 5:49 PM

President Bush today demanded that Democratic lawmakers stop pressing his attorney general nominee for his views on a harsh CIA interrogation technique and called for a prompt Senate confirmation vote in the interests of battling terrorism.

Addressing the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, Bush used a speech on "the global war on terror" to lobby for former federal judge Michael B. Mukasey and defend the nominee's refusal to comment in his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings about the legality of "waterboarding," a controversial interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

Bush also called for congressional action on several key bills that he said are being held up, including an emergency war funding measure and spending bills for defense and veterans affairs.

The speech -- and an unusual Oval Office session with pool reporters that preceded it -- came as Democratic support for Mukasey dwindled over the waterboarding issue. On Capitol Hill, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) announced today that he would oppose the nomination, becoming the fourth Democrat on the Judiciary Committee to declare his opposition.

Briefing reporters on his speech this morning, Bush refused to say whether waterboarding is now being used or whether he considers it legal. He insisted that whatever methods the CIA is using to extract information from suspected terrorists are "within the law" and should not be "broadcast to the enemy."

In his speech, Bush linked the Mukasey confirmation fight to the war on terrorism by arguing that "in a time of war, it is vital for the president to have a full national security team in place, and a key member of that team is the attorney general."

He asserted that "some in Congress are behaving as if America is not at war." Such politicians "are either being disingenuous or naive," he said. "Either way, it is dangerous for our country. We are at war. And we cannot win this war by wishing it away or pretending it does not exist."

In response, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called on Bush to heed his own advice and refocus U.S. resources on countering terrorist threats, which he said have escalated because of Bush's "flawed strategy in Iraq" and "mismanagement of the war."

"Just as we will not give the president a blank check for his directionless war, we refuse to rubberstamp his nominee for attorney general," Reid said in a statement. "The Senate fully intends to fulfill its constitutional duty and demand clarity from this nominee on the illegality of a technique the United States has previously prosecuted as torture. Ambiguity on this question endangers our soldiers abroad and is counterproductive to winning the war on terror."

Bush charged in his speech that the Senate Judiciary Committee has been holding up Mukasey's nomination although he has testified for nearly six hours, answered more than 200 questions at his hearing and responded to nearly 500 additional questions in writing.

"As a price for his confirmation, some on that committee want Judge Mukasey to take a legal position on specific techniques allegedly used to interrogate captured terrorists," Bush told the Heritage Foundation. He said Mukasey cannot do so for several reasons that the nominee explained in a letter to committee members.

"First, he does not know whether certain methods of questioning are, in fact, used, because the program is classified," Bush said. "And therefore, he is in no position to provide an informed opinion. He has not been read into the program and . . . won't be until he's confirmed and sworn in as the attorney general."

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