Mukasey Under Fire In Justice Department Hearing
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Here's one advantage of taking over a troubled department late in the Bush administration: You can turn aside questions about all the controversial things that happened before you arrive.
That's the approach taken by Attorney General Michael Mukasey when questioned by Congress. NPR's Ari Shapiro was listening.
ARI SHAPIRO: Attorney General Mukasey has only been in office eight months, and he's already more than halfway through his tenure. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island described Mukasey's approach as a pronounced reluctance to look backwards into the problems at the Department of Justice.
Senator SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (Democrat, Rhode Island): It is highly inadequate to have this I'll-only-look-going-forward approach that I detect.
SHAPIRO: For example, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California listed ways in which she believed the Justice Department was politicized in the last few years: US attorney firings, civil rights enforcement, hiring immigration judges, detainee treatment, spying laws.
Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): What I want you to know is that in the view of many of us, the department has lost enormous credibility.
SHAPIRO: Mukasey said he's made some policy changes, but many of the concerns Feinstein listed are under investigation.
Attorney General MICHAEL MUKASEY (United States Department of Justice): And when those reports are received, they will be reviewed. They will be acted upon.
SHAPIRO: One report already has been received. Just a couple of weeks ago, the department's inspector general said political appointees at the department hired people based on their political ideology instead of their qualifications.
Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold asked Attorney General Mukasey:
Senator RUSSELL FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): But what about accountability for those who did this?
Attorney Gen. MUKASEY: I think that to the extent that there is to be accountability, that was covered in the OIG report.
SHAPIRO: OIG is Office of the Inspector General. Senator Whitehouse seemed to capture the Democrats' frustration.
Sen. WHITEHOUSE: We can't be assured that you're looking backwards. We can't be assured that it's been cleaned up, and if we can't be assured that it's cleaned up, we can't be satisfied that the Department of Justice is back where it needs to be.
SHAPIRO: Senator Feingold tried looking forwards instead. The Justice Department is considering letting the FBI investigate Americans based on a profile that could include the person's race or ethnicity, even if the person isn't suspected of a crime. So Feingold asked Mukasey:
Sen. FEINGOLD: What about if a person is a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent who has traveled frequently to Pakistan?
SHAPIRO: He asks would that be enough to open an FBI investigation? Mukasey said:
Attorney Gen. MUKASEY: I'm not prepared to discuss today particular hypotheticals, one way or the other.
SHAPIRO: He may never have to. This was likely the last Justice Department oversight hearing the Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct under President Bush and Attorney General Mukasey. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.