- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman yesterday said the White House’s refusal to turn over information requested by the panel could affect the confirmation process of attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey with hearings possibly under way by the middle of the month.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said he will work with the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and other panel members to finalize a date to begin the confirmation process of the retired federal judge.

Mr. Leahy, in a statement, described the need for a “new direction and new leadership” at the Justice Department as “important to me and to all of us, and to the country,” and said that efforts need to be made to “restore” the department to the “time-honored practices and traditions” that protected it from political influence.

“Regrettably, the White House has chosen not to clear the decks of ongoing concerns and not to produce the information and material they should have and could have about the ongoing scandals that have shaken the department and led to the exodus of its former leadership,” Mr. Leahy said.

“Those matters now encumber the Mukasey nomination and, as he knows, he will be asked about them,” he said, adding that the committee needs to ensure that the next attorney general will guarantee the independence of federal law enforcement from political pressure.

Mr. Leahy said the next attorney general must be able to “restore morale at the department and the public’s trust in the department.”

In a letter yesterday to Mr. Mukasey, Mr. Leahy said he intended to hold the nominee to a higher standard in the wake of President Bush’s refusal to turn over subpoenaed materials about the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and would continue to pursue that investigation. The chairman also said he would continue a separate inquiry into dissent within the Justice Department over a warrantless wiretapping program started after September 11, even if Mr. Mukasey is confirmed.

The White House called for quicker action on the nomination.

“Members of the committee have been outspoken about the vacancies [at the Justice Department], and they have an opportunity to do something about it by confirming him swiftly,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino.

Mr. Bush nominated Mr. Mukasey on Sept. 17 to replace Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who resigned during a growing flap in the Senate over the firing of the U.S. attorneys and a lack of communication among Congress, the White House and the Justice Department.

Mr. Mukasey, in brief remarks after his nomination, said the attorney general’s job was “vastly different” from in the past because of terrorism threats, but that the “principles that guide the Justice Department remain the same — to pursue justice, by enforcing the law with unswerving fidelity to the Constitution.”

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