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Bush Backs Attorney General Nominee
Bush said Mukasey also "does not want an uninformed opinion to be taken by our professional interrogators in the field as placing them in legal jeopardy." Nor does he want to "give the terrorists a window into which techniques we may use and which ones we may not use" -- information that Bush said "could help them train their operatives to resist questioning and withhold vital information we need to stop attacks and save lives."
Bush noted that Congress last year approved a law that allows the CIA to continue a program he put in place to question key terrorist operatives and leaders.
"The procedures used in this program are safe, they are lawful, and they are necessary," he said to applause from the supportive audience. He said that "senior leaders" of the House and Senate from both political parties have been briefed on the program's details. He did not identify them.
"It's wrong for congressional leaders to make Judge Mukasey's confirmation dependent on his willingness to go on the record about the details of a classified program he has not been briefed on," Bush said. "If the Senate Judiciary Committee were to block Judge Mukasey on these grounds, they would set a new standard for confirmation that could not be met by any responsible nominee for attorney general. And that would guarantee that America would have no attorney general during this time of war."
After chastising the Democratic-controlled Congress on several other issues, Bush drew his biggest round of applause from the conservative foundation when he blasted liberal antiwar organizations.
"When it comes to funding our troops, some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the requests of our commanders on the ground and less time responding to the demands of MoveOn.org bloggers and Code Pink protesters," Bush said.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, issued statements explaining decisions to oppose Mukasey's nomination, which initially had appeared likely to sail through the Senate. Bush named the former judge after his longtime confidant, Alberto R. Gonzales, resigned amid widespread complaints about his stewardship of the Justice Department and his testimony before Congress about such matters as the firing last year of nine federal prosecutors.
"Judge Mukasey's refusal to classify the barbaric practice of waterboarding as torture waves a red flag about his nomination to serve an administration that has adhered to the Cheney doctrine on executive power and torture," Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement today.
"Many of us wanted to believe that Judge Mukasey could undo the damage of the Gonzales years," Kerry said. "Unfortunately his lack of candor and his refusal to acknowledge this abuse of power suggest he is unable or unwilling to do so, and this is why I will be opposing Judge Mukasey's nomination to be the next attorney general of the United States."
Kennedy said in a floor statement that he had hoped to support Mukasey's nomination but found him evasive and noncommittal on waterboarding and other issues related to torture. He also compared Mukasey's testimony to that given by Gonzales, who came under fire from Democrats for frequently refusing to answer questions or claiming he could not remember key details.
"Judge Mukasey's answers to our questions on torture remind me of nothing so much as the responses to the Senate on these issues by Attorney General Gonzales," Kennedy said. He said Mukasey "may have dressed up his responses in more skilled legal rhetoric, but the difference between his answers and those of Mr. Gonzales is disappointingly small."
Democratic Sens. Joseph R. Biden (Del.), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) have also come out against the nomination, leaving six Democrats on the Judiciary panel undecided. Kerry is not a member of the committee.