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For the First Time, Mukasey Meets the PressAttorney general touches upon a range of issues facing the department since he took the helm in November
Attorney General Michael Mukasey sat down with reporters in a Justice Department conference room last week to address a range of topics involving the DOJ. The Friday event -- his first on-the-record session since being confirmed to the post -- came just days before he is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing. No question was off-limits, but Mukasey balked at answering many related to interrogation methods -- a key topic likely to be raised by senators.
Legal Times2008-01-28 12:00:00 AM
Attorney General Michael Mukasey sat down with reporters in a fifth-floor conference room at Main Justice last week to address a range of topics involving the Justice Department. The Friday event -- his first on-the-record session since being confirmed to the post in November -- came just days before he is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing.
No question was off-limits, but Mukasey balked at answering many related to his views on interrogation methods -- key topics likely to be raised by senators this week.
What follows are some of the highlights from the session.
Speaking of ongoing efforts to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Mukasey said there would be immediate repercussions if no bill is passed by Feb. 1 -- when a temporary fix that Congress hastily approved last summer sunsets.
"Existing [surveillance] orders will expire in the order they were issued [and] any new situations that present themselves ... can't be addressed," he said. "The great enemy of all of this is uncertainty. And that's just going to be compounded. This is going to present problems of how we gather intelligence."
At his Oct. 17 confirmation hearing, Mukasey pledged to senators that he would revisit the Office of Legal Counsel's work, including memos authorizing controversial interrogation methods, and report back to them.
"I said I would review the current [interrogation] program. I said I would review the Office of Legal Counsel letters ... and that I would offer the view of whether the current program is lawful or not and whether those letters are legally compliant or not. ... I can't say more, and I won't say more," he said last week.
Many of the OLC memos under scrutiny were written or supervised by OLC's acting chief, Steven Bradbury, whom the White House renominated for assistant attorney general last week after two failed tries in as many years. Bradbury has been rebuffed by Senate Democrats who accuse him of partisanship and of acquiescing to White House legal requests.
"Steve Bradbury is one of the finest lawyers I've ever met, and I've met a lot of very good ones," Mukasey said. "I enjoy working with him, and I want to continue to work with him."
CIA INTERROGATION TAPES
"The standard for going from that [a preliminary inquiry] to a [criminal] investigation was that there would be some indication -- which is a lot less than probable cause -- some indication that there was any violation of any federal statute. And that's the only basis on which we proceeded. ... The standard that governs investigations in this department across the board -- and I have no reason to believe that that one's going to be any exception -- is that they go where the evidence takes them," Mukasey said.
THE DOJ'S IMAGE
Asked whether Main Justice was in turmoil when he took its reins 2 1/2 months ago, Mukasey said that was not something he expected to find upon his arrival.
"Based on what I've seen, no," he said. "And when I got here, it confirmed what I thought before, which is that the people who are here, top to bottom, side to side, are certainly ... the most talented and dedicated group of professionals that I ever worked with in my life. And they were all doing their jobs before I got here."
FIRED U.S. ATTORNEYS
Mukasey said that the 2006 removal of nine U.S. Attorneys hasn't set a precedent for future attorneys general.
"I have been asked to address that," he said. "I mean, U.S. attorneys are appointed by presidents, removed by presidents. They have been in the past. And that said, I don't think that anybody should be removed based on the kinds of cases he prosecutes or doesn't, based on the merits. And I don't think that has happened, nor am I going to let it happen if I can avoid it."
"[As] somebody on the government salary, I'm always surprised when somebody is being compensated at the level well beyond mine. ... I understand there is a review that was ongoing before that of whether there should be standards in the award of monitorships. ... And obviously, people don't work for nothing. People deserve to get paid, particularly people who have talent and ability and experience," he said.
Mukasey said: "The guidelines went into effect and, obviously, starting to head in the other direction is simply going back to where the problem was in the first place. And there has been a suggestion that ... we go to a system of ... topless guidelines in which the bottom range of the sentencing guidelines becomes the mandatory minimum. I don't know whether that's something that makes sense now or not. I think that going back to the prior system is going back to a system that everybody thought wasn't desirable, including Congress."
FEDERAL DEATH PENALTY
Addressing whether the federal government should seek the death penalty in states that don't have it, Mukasey said: "I think that the point of the review process, as we have it, is to make certain that the federal death penalty is sought uniformly ... on the facts that warrant it. If we were simply to adjust based on whether each state has or hasn't got the death penalty, I don't think that interest would be served."
One of the lighter moments came when Mukasey opined on the portrait of Edward Levi -- one of four portraits of former attorneys general in the conference room -- which recently replaced Robert Jackson's painting. "The portrait of a man I have admired for a long time used to hang there," he said, before explaining that he chose Jackson's portrait for his office to replace a photograph of the same painting that he has carried for more than 20 years. "His career in large is a portrait of what a person should do with his life. He has clarity of expression and a clarity of thought that I can aspire to on my good days."