|Mukasey's hearings could be later this month.|
Mukasey hearing to proceed without White House papers
Leahy warns of higher scrutiny in questioning
WASHINGTON - A Senate committee signaled yesterday that it planned to proceed with a confirmation hearing for Attorney General-designate Michael B. Mukasey without documents from the White House it once deemed critical to investigating suspected abuses under Alberto R. Gonzales.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a letter to Mukasey yesterday that he intended to hold the nominee to a higher standard in light of the administration's refusal to turn over subpoenaed materials about the politically charged firing last year of nine US attorneys and other matters.
Aides said Leahy would continue to press that investigation - along with an investigation into dissent within the Justice Department over a warrantless wiretapping program launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - even if Mukasey is confirmed.
But Leahy indicated to Mukasey that he would not use the lack of cooperation from the administration to hold up his nomination. The senator proposed a private meeting on Oct. 16 to discuss Mukasey's nomination and his views on a variety of subjects. Sources said a confirmation hearing could be scheduled soon afterward, perhaps even starting the following day.
"Regrettably, the White House has chosen not to clear the decks of past concerns and not to produce the information and material it should have and could have about the ongoing scandals that have shaken the Department of Justice and led to the exodus of its former leadership," Leahy wrote. "Those matters now encumber your nomination and, if confirmed, your tenure."
Mukasey has garnered broad support from Democrats and Republicans, but his nomination by President Bush last month has become ensnared in ongoing congressional investigations into allegations of politicization of the department that drove Gonzales from office.
The conciliatory approach by Leahy shows that even Democrats are disinclined to fight the White House over a nominee they consider to be fair, even as the White House has refused to budge in the document tug of war.
The White House pressed the case for swifter confirmation yesterday.
"Members of the committee have been outspoken about the vacancies [at the Department of Justice], and they have an opportunity to do something about it by confirming him swiftly," press secretary Dana Perino said. She was alluding to the departure of more than a dozen political appointees at the department who followed Gonzales out the door.
"It's a critically important department, and we are a nation that needs the Justice Department to be led ably, especially at a time of war," Perino added.
The administration on Tuesday forwarded to the committee a completed 85-page questionnaire detailing Mukasey's personal finances and 40-year record as a prosecutor, private lawyer, and federal judge in New York. The nominee has spoken or met personally with all the members of the judiciary panel.
In his letter yesterday, Leahy outlined a series of questions he would ask Mukasey in their meeting Oct. 16, essentially offering a preview of issues that are likely to come up at his confirmation hearing.
Gonzales resigned last month after a series of congressional hearings turned up evidence that insiders were using political factors to hire career employees and launching voting-rights lawsuits that could benefit Republican candidates. His unwavering support of administration anti-terrorism policies also raised questions about his legal judgment.
Leahy asked Mukasey whether he agreed with some of the more provocative legal stands taken since the Sept. 11 attacks, including the power to override international treaties governing the treatment and questioning of terrorism suspects. He asked Mukasey whether he believed Bush was legally correct when he ignored the federal wiretapping law and ordered the National Security Agency to conduct secret electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists communicating with people in the United States.
Leahy also asked Mukasey whether he agreed with the broad view of executive privilege that the administration has taken in refusing to turn over White House documents and testimony in connection with the Justice-related investigations. He asked whether Mukasey would allow the US attorney in Washington to pursue contempt charges against administration officials for refusing to appear before Congress - charges officials previously have said they would not pursue because they believed the officials were protected by executive privilege.
"I want to know whether you will work with us and provide those materials so that we can examine the legal justifications that have been utilized by this administration to excuse its conduct," Leahy wrote.