Michael Mukasey’s nomination to become the next U.S. attorney general started out refreshingly well at a time when the Justice Department has become a political battleground for everything from the war on terror to voting rights. Passing over more partisan candidates to replace Alberto Gonzales, who resigned amid a firestorm of criticism over interference in the department, President George W. Bush nominated a former judge whose name even appeared on a Democratic list of acceptable picks for the Supreme Court. Both parties hailed Mukasey as a fair jurist and expert on terrorism. He had presided over the trial that locked up Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheik,” for his role in planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, drawing professional praise and personal death threats.
During his confirmation hearings before the Senate judiciary committee, Mukasey delighted Democrats by decrying political meddling in hiring decisions at the Justice Department. They were less thrilled by his expansive view of presidential power, or his past ruling in favour of the administration’s right to hold U.S. citizens as “enemy combatants” without trial—a decision overturned on appeal. And the bonhomie totally evaporated when Mukasey declined to say whether the interrogation technique known as “waterboarding” amounts to torture and is therefore illegal. Mukasey said he needed to know more about the CIA’s use of the technique that simulates drowning.
It looked like committee Democrats might torpedo the nomination. But this week, Democrats Charles Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California reluctantly voted to approve Mukasey, clearing the way for his confirmation by the full Senate. Schumer’s rationale was simple: if not Mukasey, he reasoned, they’d end up with someone worse. M
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.