The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday finished its first day of questioning of attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey, asking him about issues of national security. The NewsHour reports on Mukasey's confirmation hearing.
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Next, Mukasey at the bat. NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), Vermont: These hearings are about a nomination, but the hearings are also about accountability.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy made clear today's hearing was as much about former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as it was about the man hoping to succeed him. New York Democrat Chuck Schumer agreed.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), New York: Our investigation this year demonstrated the department's prior leadership sorely lacked credibility, competence, independence. Against that backdrop, and with only 14 months left, the department does not now need a series of bold initiatives. Rather, it needs steady leadership. This is, we might say, a rebuilding year.
It was Senator Schumer who recommended to President Bush that nominating Michael Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York, could be the first step in that rebuilding process. And so senators grilled Mukasey on several controversies that marked Gonzales' tenure, most concerning national security and the president's war on terror.
Mukasey immediately tried to assuage their concerns.
MICHAEL MUKASEY, U.S. Attorney General-Designate:
Protecting civil liberties and people's confidence that those liberties are protected is a part of protecting national security, just as is the gathering of intelligence to defend us from those who believe it is their duty to make war on us.
But several senators still wanted specific answers. Leahy asked about the 2002 memo, signed by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, that authorized harsh interrogation tactics.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
Do you believe that the president has the authority under any circumstances to exercise a so-called commander-in-chief override and immunize acts of torture, as the Bybee memo argued?
Torture is unlawful under the laws of this country. The president has said that in an executive order. But beyond all of those legal restrictions, we don't torture, not simply because it's against this or that law, or against this or that treaty. It is not what this country is about; it is not what this country stands for; it's antithetical to everything this country stands for.
The Bybee memo, to paraphrase a French diplomat, was worse than a sin, it was a mistake. It was unnecessary.