Ashcroft was nominated to be AGUS and, in one of the first Bush/Senate confrontations, nearly failed to be voted out of committee. The only dem vote that Ashcroft gained was Russ Feingold's.
"I believe the American people desperately want us to conduct ourselves, where possible, in a bipartisan manner -- with civility, with give and take -- and act as if those terms have real meaning and are not just empty rhetoric," Feingold said. He was acting on the idea that disagreements over ideology shouldn't be a reason to vote against a nominee -- if it were, no president could get his nominees past confirmation if the Senate were controlled by the opposition party.
Unfortunately for America, Ashcroft turned out to be a complete nutjob. He ordered that statues of a bare-breasted "Spirit of Justice" at the Justice department be covered. He started each day at Justice with a prayer session and the singing of patriotic songs he wrote himself (one DoJ lawyer was quoted as saying, "Have you heard the song? It really sucks.")
Prior to being appointed by Bush, Ashcroft had expressed admiration for the confederate cause, which makes him a sort of historical traitor -- Missouri was a union state. And, after his confirmation, it was Ashcroft who led the assault one our civil liberties.
You would've been excused if you thought Bush wouldn't be able to find anyone crazier than Ashcroft.
But it turned out that Bush didn't have to look very far. His personal attorney, Alberto Gonzales, fit the bill nicely. In fact, Senate testimony showed that, in a confrontation between Ashcroft and Gonzales, it was Ashcroft who was the saner. Gonzales' actions in that hospital room later turned out to be a career killer.
So, does the current AGUS nominee follow this trend? He seems to. Where Ashcroft was obviously squirrelly, Gonzales hid it fairly well. Michael Mukasey seems to be following that trend, at least. He doesn't seem as crazy as his two predecessors.
That is until you consider that, like Gonzales and Ashcroft before him, he believes in an area of the law that doesn't actually exist. A lot has been made of his dancing around the issue of torture, but he's been pretty open about other things that are just as disturbing. He believes the president is above the law.
When asked whether the president was bound by federal law, Mukasey answered, "That would have to depend on whether what goes outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country."
In other words, Bush has some magical authority, unwritten in law or the Constitution and unrecognized by history, that allows him to disregard law. Russ Feingold had something to say about that:
The Capital Times:
"Democrats can no longer be a part of the savaging of the U.S. Constitution," Feingold told the cheering crowd that packed Madison's Sardine restaurant on Saturday afternoon.
While acknowledging that George Bush's nominee to take charge of the Justice Department was "competent" and far more impressive than former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Feingold said, "When it comes to the issue of executive power -- what I consider to be the most important issue of our time -- Mukasey had not testified clearly or convincingly that he would as the nation's chief law enforcement officer demand that the president respect the laws of the land.
"That, to me, despite his many qualifications, is a disqualifier," the senator declared.
All of which brings us home in this political shaggy dog story. Russ Feingold, having established that he's not motivated by partisanship, is in a unique position to comment on Michael Mukasey. As the only dem on his committee to vote for Ashcroft, Feingold can legitimately say that his opposition to Mukasey is based on the nominee's bad judgement and not his ideology.
"The nation's top law enforcement officer must be able to stand up to a chief executive who thinks he is above the law. The rule of law is too important to our country's history and to its future to compromise on that bedrock principle," Feingold said.
Russ is right. It was one thing to vote for Ashcroft, who had some really goofy political beliefs, and another to vote for Mukasey, who has some really goofy beliefs about the law. One is a matter of opinion, the other is a matter of fact. And when the nominee is this wrong about the plain facts of the law, there's no way that nominee should be confirmed. He's just plain not qualified -- former judge or not, Mukasey doesn't understand the law as it applies to the presidency. Or, more accurately, he's engaged in wishful thinking about it, like everyone else connected with this White House.
Writes John Nichols, "The Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Feingold sits, is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to send the Mukasey nomination to the full Senate. Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has said he will oppose the nominee. But two key Democrats, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, have announced in recent days that they will vote to confirm Mukasey. Several other Democrats on the committee, including Wisconsin's Herb Kohl, have yet to announce their intentions.
"With Schumer and Feinstein backing Mukasey, however, it is likely that the nomination will be approved by a majority of Judiciary Committee members. Only if critics of the nominee can convince a Republican to break with the Bush White House will the former judge be denied the committee's backing. An endorsement from the Judiciary Committee traditionally clears the way for confirmation by the full Senate."
As I write this, the news finishes my post for me:
A divided Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved Michael Mukasey as U.S. attorney general despite concerns about the retired judge's refusal to denounce simulated drowning as unlawful torture.
On an 11-8 vote, with two Democrats joining all nine Republicans, the committee sent President George W. Bush's nomination of Mukasey to the full Democratic-led Senate for anticipated confirmation as chief U.S. law enforcement officer. The vote is likely to take place next week.
Mukasey will wind up back before the Judiciary committee someday, trying to dig the administration out of a hole he helped design.
The committee should've listened to Feingold and, because they didn't, we'll all pay for it.
Technorati tags: politics; law; Bush; White House; John Ashcroft; Alberto Gonzales; Russ Feingold thinks Michael Mukasey doesn't know the law -- and Feingold's right