Leahy: Mukasey will be confirmed if he proves independence from White House influence

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate if Mukasey convinces members of the Senate Judiciary committee that he’ll be independent of the political influence of the White House.

The committee will begin its review of this nomination tomorrow morning.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The hearing will give a number of Democrats on the panel, including its chairman Pat Leahy, an opportunity to review some of the most controversial policies of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Leahy describes Gonzales’ tenure as the head of the Department of Justice as a disaster because, Leahy says, Gonzales was unwilling to stand up to excessive political interference by the Bush Administration on a number of critical issues.

Leahy says he wants to know how Mukasey plans to deal with this pressure.

(Leahy) "He knows he will not be confirmed by the Senate unless he really is going to be independent. Mukasey will have a very, very tough job to try to restore the trust that’s been squandered at the Department of Justice. I think he can do it, but only if he’s independent. And he’s told me privately he intends to be independent of anybody and would resign if they try to influence his independence."

(Kinzel) For several months, Leahy has been seeking documents from the White House concerning a memo written by Gonzales that Leahy believes authorizes the use of torture in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.

Leahy says the committee wants to know how Mukasey feels about a policy of torture.

(Leahy) "I think he will tell the committee that those torture memos went too far. And I think now we see why the White House wanted to withhold those from the Congress. The irony is everything the Congress has asked the White House for, and they said they had to withhold, was then leaked by somebody in the Administration to The New York Times.

(Kinzel) Leahy says he’s concerned that if the United States doesn’t repudiate the use of torture, then the lives of American soldiers will be at risk.

(Leahy) "I think it tells other countries that there’s no way that America can complain if they’re torturing Americans. And I hate to see our country put in that position. We’ve had the high moral ground during the cold war. We could tell the Soviet Union and others they could not torture now. If we try to raise that point they’re going to simply say, `Who are you to tell us.’ And as an American I find that shameful."

(Kinzel) Leahy had threatened to delay the confirmation hearings until he received more documents from the White House concerning the policy of torture.

But he says he’s now received enough information to proceed with the review of Mukasey’s nomination.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.


AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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