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Leading 2008 Democrats come out against attorney general nominee

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Mukasey calls waterboarding repugnant, but offers no legal opinion
  • Sen. Barack Obama opposes Michael Mukasey for attorney general
  • Mukasey's testimony on torture, executive power disqualifies him, Obama says
  • Sen. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards release similar statements after Obama
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The three leading Democratic presidential candidates announced Tuesday they will oppose President Bush's nomination for attorney general, citing his recent testimony on torture and executive power.

Retired Judge Michael Mukasey was nominated to replace former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Retired Judge Michael Mukasey was nominated by President Bush to replace Alberto Gonzales, who stepped down last month amid controversy.

Earlier this month, Mukasey's refusal to directly disavow waterboarding and other interrogation techniques frustrated Senate Democrats during confirmation hearings.

On Tuesday, Mukasey called waterboarding a "repugnant" practice, but again refused to say whether it violates U.S. laws banning torture.

He was responding to a request to clarify his remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee in writing.

"After the dismal performance of the last attorney general, I had hoped that Judge Michael Mukasey would represent a badly needed change in direction for the Justice Department and the nation," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, said in a written statement. "But his testimony before the Senate was stunning.

"While his legal credentials are strong, his views on two critical and related matters are, in my view, disqualifying," Obama said. "We don't need another attorney general who believes that the president enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law or abridge our constitutional freedoms simply by invoking national security.

"And we don't need another attorney general who looks the other way on issues as profound as torture," said Obama, who called the nominee's "ignorance" of the debate over waterboarding and other interrogation techniques "appalling."

On the heels of the Obama announcement, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina made similar announcements.

"I am deeply troubled by Judge Mukasey's continued unwillingness to clearly state his views on torture and unchecked executive power," Clinton said in a written statement.

"After Alberto Gonzales' troubled tenure, we cannot send a signal that the next attorney general in any way condones torture or believes that the president is unconstrained by law."

Edwards' statement was issued about the same time.

"Mukasey has also said that the president doesn't necessarily have to abide by acts of Congress," he said. "We need an attorney general who will put the rule of law above the administration's short-term political interests, and Mukasey has already shown that he's unwilling to do that.

"The credibility of the Justice Department has been badly tarnished, and it is now clear that Mukasey is not the man to restore it. The Senate should reject his nomination."

The statements came two days after another Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Chris Dodd, announced his plans to vote against Mukasey's confirmation as attorney general, basing his decision on the nominee's contention that the president can overrule a federal statute when the nation's defense is at risk.

Dodd, of Connecticut, accused the Bush administration of having "trampled all over the rule of law," and added, "I'm not about to confirm a nominee that would continue that process here." Video Watch Dodd discuss the Mukasey nomination »

He said he was also bothered by the nominee's refusal to declare waterboarding is a form of torture and U.S. interrogators should not use it, but found Mukasey's comments on presidential powers more troubling.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican presidential candidate, told reporters he disagrees with Mukasey over the waterboarding issue but may still vote to confirm him.

Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani said Mukasey is an "honorable, well-qualified nominee for Attorney General who doesn't deserve to have his nomination politicized and used for personal gain by the likes of HIllary Clinton and Barack Obama."

Bush nominated the 66-year-old retired federal judge to replace Gonzales, who resigned in September amid questions about his role in the 2006 firings of eight U.S. attorneys and whether he misled Congress about the Bush administration's no-warrant eavesdropping program.

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, has asked Mukasey to submit in writing information to clarify his remarks to the committee.

Specter asked Mukasey to explain his answer to a question on whether a president may legally authorize wiretaps that violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to which Mukasey responded by saying it "would have to depend on whether what goes on outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country."

Specter also asked Mukasey to "respond in detail as to your views on the legality and propriety of waterboarding."

During his confirmation hearings earlier this month, Mukasey said he believes torture violates the Constitution, but he refused to be pinned down on whether he believes specific interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, are constitutional.

"I don't know what's involved in the techniques. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional," he said.


Waterboarding was specifically prohibited in a law passed by Congress.

The Bush administration has declared that, while it does not torture detainees, it won't reveal which interrogation techniques may be used. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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