(Host) Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy announced today that he’ll oppose the nomination of Michael Mukasey to be the next Attorney General. Leahy says Mukasey’s refusal to condemn as "illegal" the interrogation practice known as waterboarding is at the heart of his decision.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
(Zind) Initially, Leahy reacted favorably when the president nominated Mukasey to replace former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales resigned in August amid charges that the White House wielded too much political influence over the Justice Department.
But after Mukasey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs, Leahy said he had a number of concerns.
Chief among them was Mukasey’s response to questions about an interrogation technique called waterboarding, which simulates drowning. Mukasey refused to say it was a form of torture and therefore illegal under U.S. and international law.
Speaking in his Burlington office,
Leahy recited a long history of waterboarding dating back to the Spanish Inquisition, saying the technique has always been condemned as torture. Leahy said it isn’t enough that Mukasey considers waterboarding repugnant.
(Leahy) "I like Michael Mukasey. I respect his intelligence. I respect his basic core values. I wish I could support his nomination but I cannot."
(Zind) Mukasey told Leahy’s committee that he couldn’t say if waterboarding is illegal because he hasn’t received the necessary security clearance to be briefed on it.
Leahy says the nation needs an independent Attorney General at a time when the Bush administration considers itself, in Leahy’s words, "above the law."
This week President Bush actively defended Mukasey. The President says filling the position quickly is a matter of national security. Leahy says it’s important that confidence in the office be restored.
(Leahy) "In some ways the country has been without an Attorney General since Alberto Gonzales was installed. That did not seem to worry the President."
(Zind) Despite Leahy’s opposition, it appears there is enough support for Mukasey on his committee to send the nomination to the Senate floor where it’s expected to win approval.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has announced he’ll vote against the nomination.
For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind in Burlington.