Mukasey Vows Smooth Transition At Justice for Next Administration
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey yesterday pledged to use the final six months of his tenure to guard against political interference in Justice Department operations and ensure a smooth transition to the next administration.
Mukasey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that yesterday's passage of an overhaul to wiretapping law, along with the forthcoming release of new guidelines for FBI national security investigations, will give members of the intelligence community "the tools they need to keep us safe."
The handoff of national security and intelligence gathering to new leaders in January, he said, will be among his most "vital" priorities.
Responding to Democrats who expressed concern about a recent report by Justice's inspector general that exposed partisan hiring abuses in the department's elite honors and summer intern program, Mukasey said he will closely watch the situation.
"My promise to you is that I have done, and I will continue to do, what I can to ensure that politics is kept out of decisions about cases and out of decisions about career hiring at the Department of Justice," he said.
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) said one candidate who was rejected for the Justice program graduated first in his class at Georgetown Law Center and won a prestigious appellate clerkship. Political appointees at Justice apparently rejected the applicant for a career job because he had worked for Feingold on Capitol Hill.
"I find this conduct unacceptable and truly hope the promises you made are being kept," Feingold said.
More extensive and critical reports on politicized employment decisions involving U.S. attorneys and the Civil Rights Division are expected to be released soon by Justice's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility. Several officials involved in those missteps left the department in the past year, the attorney general said.
Mukasey clashed repeatedly with Senate Democrats who sought his commitment to open ethics probes and criminal investigations of controversial episodes earlier in the Bush administration, including the treatment of prisoners detained after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and Justice memos that blessed interrogation strategies that critics liken to torture.
"I detect a very pronounced reluctance to look backwards," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). "For many of us on this committee who care very deeply . . . about the integrity of the Department of Justice, it is highly inadequate to have this only-look-going-forward approach that I detect. It is very important, I think, that we also be prepared to look backwards, find out exactly what went wrong, and clean it up."
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) called for an inquiry into U.S. lawyers who blessed the alleged mistreatment of detainees. "Can we expect in the last six months of this administration that you will step away from some of the things of the past and make a clear break?" he asked.
But Mukasey, a retired federal judge who oversaw terrorism cases in New York, refused to budge.
"Lawyers have to adhere to the law," he said, "and not concern themselves with what's going to be politically acceptable later on."