When former Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales resigned in disgrace last year, it was hoped that his successor, Michael Mukasey would return professionalism to the Justice Department. The Department of Justice traditionally sidesteps the partisan politics that plague other departments. Charged with enforcing the laws of the land; their duties can and sometimes include prosecuting the very people responsible for appointing them. Which is why the politicization of the Department under Gonzales’ direction (who most likely was taking orders from Karl Rove), was viewed so harshly, ultimately leading to his resignation.
Originally, Mukasey was seen as a staunch conservative with essentially the same worldview as Bush but still, a man that could act independently enough to do the job he was appointed for. This is what Glenn Greenwald wrote when Mukasey’s name first surfaced as Gonzales’ replacement,
There is no question that Judge Mukasey, a Reagan appointee who served as the Chief Judge for the Southern District of New York before retiring recently, is close to the far right on the judicial spectrum. He undoubtedly holds many legal and political views which most Democrats would find objectionable, perhaps even intolerable. But that will be true of any nominee Bush selects, and it is true of the current Acting Attorney General, Paul Clement, who will remain in place if no nominee is confirmed.
I want to highlight one extremely relevant consideration concerning Judge Mukasey — the impressive role he played in presiding over the Jose Padilla case in its earliest stages. After Padilla was first detained in April 2002 and declared an “enemy combatant,” he was held incommunicado, denied all access to the outside the world, including counsel, and the Bush administration refused to charge him with any crimes. A lawsuit was filed on Padilla’s behalf by a New York criminal defense lawyer, Donna Newman, demanding that Padilla be accorded the right to petition for habeas corpus and that, first, he be allowed access to a lawyer. That lawsuit was assigned to Judge Mukasey, which almost certainly made the Bush DOJ happy.
But any such happiness proved to be unwarranted. Judge Mukasey repeatedly defied the demands of the Bush administration, ruled against them, excoriated them on multiple occasions for failing to comply with his legally issued orders, and ruled that Padilla was entitled to contest the factual claims of the government and to have access to lawyers. He issued these rulings in 2002 and 2003, when virtually nobody was defying the Bush administration on anything, let alone on assertions of executive power to combat the Terrorists. And he made these rulings in the face of what was became the standard Bush claim that unless there was complete acquiescence to all claimed powers by the President, a Terrorist attack would occur and the blood would be on the hands of those who impeded the President.
Unfortunately, Greenwald’s optimism proved to be unfounded. The first cracks in Mukasey’s “independent” façade occurred with his confirmation hearing when he refused to declare the interrogation technique of waterboarding as illegal. It only went downhill from there. Included among his exploits are, his apparent lie in support of Bush’s blatantly un-Constitutional and illegal spying on Americans, and his refusal to enforce the Congressional subpoenas issued to White House aides, Harriet Miers, Joshua Bolten and Karl Rove.
And now, if there was any doubt left that he’s no more than a Bush loyalist, eager to do Bush’s bidding, Mukasey has publicly announced that he won’t pursue the prosecutions of Justice Department officials that were guilty of politicizing the department, the very scandal that removed Gonzales as Attorney General. Unbelievably, Mukasey’s explanation, in a speech before the American Bar Association, was that the people involved have suffered enough, (h/t Think Progress)
That does not mean, as some people have suggested, that those officials who were found by the joint reports to have committed misconduct have suffered no consequences. Far from it. The officials most directly implicated in the misconduct left the Department to the accompaniment of substantial negative publicity. … To put it in concrete terms, I doubt that anyone in this room would want to trade places with any of those people. (emphasis added)
Since when is it the Attorney General’s job to decide exactly what punishment lawbreakers deserve? That’s supposed to be the job for a judge not the prosecutor. His rationalizations only get more confused,
I am well aware that some people have called on me and on the Department to take even more drastic steps than those I have described. For example, some commentators have suggested that we should criminally prosecute the people found in the reports to have committed misconduct. Where there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, we vigorously investigate it. And where there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we vigorously prosecute. But not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime. In this instance, the two joint reports found only violations of the civil service laws. (emphasis added)
“Not every violation of the law is a crime?” From which parallel universe is that true? A violation of the law is the very definition of a “crime,” and it certainly can’t be argued that these “violations of the law” were too minor to be concerned with; this scandal is one of the biggest to hit this country in recent memory. That it isn’t the biggest scandal is only because of the unmatched lawlessness of the Bush administration overall. Clearly it’s to Bush that Mukasey’s loyalties lie, rather than to the Constitution, the rule of law or the very people he’s sworn to serve. Mukasey has yet to show any of the independence or integrity his position deserves. In fact, Mukasey has proven to be no better than his disgraced predecessor.