WASHINGTON -- Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is set to meet with Michael Mukasey, the new nominee for the position of Attorney General of the United States, on Oct. 16, before the Senate confirmation hearings actually begin.
In a letter written to Mr. Mukasey on Oct. 2, Mr. Leahy presented a series of important questions that he wishes to explore in the Oct. 16 meeting and in the confirmation hearings. Senator Leahy wrote, We will need to explore with you how you would ensure the independence of federal law enforcement from political pressure, what steps you would take to restore morale at the Department and the publics trust in the Department, and whether you would uphold constitutional checks on Executive power.
Senator Leahy is particularly concerned about the refusal on the part of the White House and the Department of Justice to release to Congress documents relating to the mass firing of U.S. attorneys, the treatment of enemy combatants in U.S. prisons, and the warrant-less wiretapping programs whose scope was drastically expanded under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.
Senator Leahy warned Mr. Mukasey about the state of the house he stands to inherit. Regrettably, wrote Mr. Leahy, 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. Those matters now encumber your nomination and, if confirmed, your tenure.
Mr. Leahy also addressed the difficulties that Mr. Mukasey will face if he is confirmed, emphasizing that the White House has left you to answer the unanswered questions and left longstanding disputes unresolved.
Senator Leahy has long been battling the administration over the issue of government transparency and the release of documents pertinent to ongoing Senate investigations. In this vein, Mr. Leahy probed Mr. Mukasey about the possibility of holding certain administration officials in contempt of court. Mr. Leahy asked, If the House or Senate certified a contempt citation against current or former White House officials arising from the U.S. Attorney investigation, would you permit the U.S. Attorney to carry out the law and refer the matter to a grand jury as required by 2 U.S.C. 194? If the White House sought to prevent the U.S. Attorney from bringing contempt charges to a grand jury as required by law, would you take any action to prevent the U.S. Attorney from doing so?