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Mukasey Nomination Hearings Go Smoothly


And NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg was listening.

NINA TOTENBERG: Yesterday, nominee Mukasey was asked for his views as to whether those practices are legal.

MICHAEL MUKASEY: I have not been read in on - I think is the Washington expression - any classified program or information, including the classified information that relates to interrogation methods.

TOTENBERG: Mukasey went on to say that torture is illegal and antithetical to American values.

MUKASEY: We are parties to a treaty that outlaws torture. Torture is unlawful under the laws of this country. The president has said that in an executive order.

TOTENBERG: But Mukasey did not specify what techniques would constitute torture, or what techniques would be banned as cruel, inhuman or degrading. Asked about the administration's warrantless surveillance program, Mukasey said that, in his view, not all electronic surveillance must be submitted for approval to the special intelligence court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act known as FISA.

MUKASEY: Which is to say that there was some gap between where FISA left off and where the Constitution permitted the president to act.

TOTENBERG: That prompted this response from Democrat Russ Feingold.

RUSSELL FEINGOLD: I find your equivocation here somewhat troubling. And FISA specifically states that it is the exclusive means for conducting foreign intelligence surveillance of people in the United States indicating Congress did not intend to leave any room for what Senator Leahy referred to as a commander in chief override.

TOTENBERG: On Guantanamo, Mukasey said he does not think prisoners are mistreated. And he added...

MUKASEY: I can't simply say we have to close Guantanamo because obviously the question that arises of what we do with the people who are there, and there is now no easy solution.

TOTENBERG: If Mukasey dodged the questions on national security to some extent, he was blunt in answering questions on the role he intends to play in the administration. Would he be willing to say no to the president?

MUKASEY: If the president proposed to undertake a course of conduct that was in violation of the Constitution that would present me with a difficult but not a complex problem. I would have two choices. I could either try to talk him out of it or leave.

TOTENBERG: Asked about the new election law rule book issued recently by the Justice Department after disclosures that the Bush administration violated rules that existed for decades barring indictments of political workers on the eve of an election, Mukasey had this to say.

MUKASEY: Obviously, the closer you get to an election, when there's a charge that either deals with a candidate or it deals with an issue that can affect the outcome, the higher and higher has to be standard, and the greater and greater has to be the necessity for bringing the charge at the particular time in order to justify it.

TOTENBERG: Democrats also questioned Mukasey about President Bush's assertion of executive privilege in the ongoing probe of the mass U.S. attorney firings. In particular, he was asked about the president's claim of executive privilege in refusing to produce e-mails to the White House from the chairman of the Republican Party in New Mexico.

MUKASEY: I don't know what the situation was with respect to the chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party. I will admit to you that my first reaction to that section of the letter was, huh?

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: Want to learn more on this subject? Well, you can download an NPR News special with analysis on yesterday's hearing on the nomination of Michael Mukasey. It's at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

United States & World Morning Edition
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.