WASHINGTON – The nomination of Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general encountered resistance on Friday, with Democratic senators suggesting for the first time that they might oppose Mukasey if he did not make clear that he opposed waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques that have been used against terrorism suspects. The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, joined in the expressions of concern about Mukasey. Specter said in an interview on Friday that the nomination could hinge on Mukasey’s written responses to questions posed to him this week about the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies, including its use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and about his larger views on executive power. At his Senate confirmation hearings last week, Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York, declined to say whether he agreed with many lawmakers and human rights groups that waterboarding is a form of torture and is unconstitutional. He said he did not know the details of how waterboarding, which has been used by the CIA against senior leaders of al-Qaida, was conducted. In waterboarding, interrogators pour water onto cloth or cellophane that has been placed over the face of a suspect, creating the sensation of drowning. In an initial letter to the Judiciary Committee that was dated Wednesday and made public Friday, Mukasey repeated the assertion he had made at his confirmation hearings that torture was unconstitutional and a violation of American obligations under international treaties. But once again, he did not address the question of whether waterboarding was torture. In the letter, he also repeated his suggestion that the administration’s program of eavesdropping without warrants was legal despite criticism by lawmakers that it violated terms of federal surveillance laws. Specter said he hoped Mukasey would offer satisfactory responses, especially about his views on waterboarding. “I think now that he has had a chance to know exactly what waterboarding is, my expectation would be that – like everyone else – he would condemn it,” the senator said. “But he’s got to speak for himself.” Bush complained Friday that Democratic leaders in Congress were acting too slowly on Mukasey’s nomination, as well as on several pieces of legislation. He noted that the Senate had failed to approve the nomination “even as members complain about the lack of leadership at the Department of Justice.” On Tuesday, all 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Mukasey asking him to make a clear-cut statement of opposition to waterboarding and to describe it as illegal. On Thursday, the majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, was asked by a reporter if Mukasey should be confirmed in light of his failure to make a statement of opposition to waterboarding. “We’ll have to wait and see,” Reid said, adding that he was “troubled” by Mukasey’s testimony last week about waterboarding. “I think if he doesn’t change his direction in that regard, he could have at least one concern. And that’s me.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.Until this week, the nomination of Mukasey to replace Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general appeared to be a sure thing. Many Democratic lawmakers say privately that he is still likely to be confirmed, given the need for leadership in the Justice Department after months of turmoil. Apart from Specter, no Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have raised public doubts about the nomination. But Mukasey’s sometimes awkward responses at his confirmation hearings to a series of questions about his views on the administration’s anti-terrorism policies and its expansive views of its wartime powers under the Constitution prompted the first significant expressions of concern about the nomination from some lawmakers. “A number of issues need clarification,” Specter said in a telephone interview on Friday. “I’m troubled by the depth of his assertion of executive powers.” Spector said he was worried specifically about whether Mukasey would advise President George W. Bush to disregard acts of Congress, including a proposed law that would limit the ability of the White House to conduct electronic eavesdropping. “I don’t know that I would confirm a guy who is going to say that he’d advise the president that he has the constitutional authority to ignore a deal he has made with Congress on a specific provision” of a law, Specter said in reference to the eavesdropping legislation.
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