Mukasey Testimony: You Read it Here First
No doubt you are by now swimming in media "previews" of Attorney General Nominee Michael Mukasey's big day before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Some folks see Mukasey's appearance as merely a coronation of sorts, given that he already seems to have convinced Democrats that he's the best of an otherwise sorry lot of options. Others see the potential for more drama.
I'm somewhere in between. I think the drama of the day will come from the lawmakers, many of whom will take advantage of the television cameras to take their final shots at disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The coronation will come after Mukasey justifies why he is perfectly suited for this caretaker job.
Here are the four most important topics the Senate will ask about -- and what Mukasey's responses will and ought to be. For good measure, I've also delved into his brain to discover what he'll actually be thinking as he serves up answers to the committee.
On Morale Problems at the Department
What Mukasey should say: I have been appalled to see Justice's reputation, credibility and independence gutted by partisanship. It is absolutely essential to restore the professionalism and respect for the rule of law for which the department once stood.
What Mukasey will say: These have been difficult times for the Justice Department. To the extent the U.S. attorney investigation has created a problem of morale, I will try to address it. But the main mission at Justice is, and always has been, to enforce the law.
What Mukasey will be thinking when he says it: It's no-lose here. If I raise morale, I'll be a hit on the Hill and something like a savior at Justice. If I can't turn it around, I can say that Gonzales & Co. messed up so royally that it will take more than 15 months to fix.
On the U.S. Attorney Scandal
What Mukasey should say: I pledge to continue and, if necessary, expand the internal investigations stemming from the U.S. attorney scandal, including the investigation into whether my predecessor perjured himself before Congress. Seeing these investigations to their conclusion is one of the most important tasks before me as I take office.
What Mukasey will say: I would take very seriously any investigation of the department or its officials. But, since I am not yet attorney general, I haven't been able to review the record in any way that would allow me to say how these investigations should proceed.
What Mukasey will be thinking when he says it: At least I was in New York when all this crap happened in Washington. It will sure get ugly if we end up having to bring charges against Gonzales.
On Terrorism and the Law
What Mukasey should say: For the past few years, I have lived at the intersection of the law and the fight against terrorism. I am qualified to help the Justice Department find its role in that fight. The department has a responsibility to offer independent legal guidance to the White House that is not designed to serve as legal justification for policy choices already made.
What Mukasey will say: I have been behind the bench when federal prosecutors have come to argue on behalf of the government, and I know that the legal fight against terrorism, and the Justice Department's role in that fight, is extraordinarily complex. We should continue to be aggressive on legal policy, so that we may effectively punish and prevent acts of terrorism. But we should do so within the boundaries of the law.
What Mukasey will be thinking when he says it: Too many federal prosecutors have come into my court offering up silly arguments in the legal war on terror. No more. And I'd like to see the White House try to push one of its torture memos down my throat.
On the Controversy Over Lethal Injections
What Mukasey should say:Given the Supreme Court's ongoing review of Kentucky's lethal injection procedures, the Justice Department should put a moratorium on its support for similar procedures around the country. The department is ready to support injection protocols that are deemed humane.
What Mukasey will say: I am troubled by questions about how states administer lethal injections. But, ultimately, these are state-level issues.
What Mukasey will be thinking when he says it: The Supreme Court had better fix this problem and quick, before it becomes an absolute scandal. And it would be great if the court would come down on this clearly one way or another, so I don't have to.
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