The love feast for attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey came to an abrupt halt Thursday, as the nominee suggested that the president's executive powers are pretty darn expansive, after all.
Mukasey said that the president could ignore federal surveillance law if it infringes on his constitutional authority as commander in chief, The Washington Post reports. Mukasey said there may be occasions when the president's wartime powers would supersede legal requirements to obtain a warrant to conduct wiretaps.
In such a case, Mukasey said, "the president is not putting somebody above the law; the president is putting somebody within the law. . . . The president doesn't stand above the law. But the law emphatically includes the Constitution."
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was "troubled by your answer. I see a loophole big enough to drive a truck through."
Mukasey gave a stamp of approval, for example, to the administration's expansive view of executive privilege. He said it would be inappropriate for a U.S. attorney to press for contempt charges against a White House official protected by a claim of executive privilege.
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who had pressed Mukasey on the limits of federal surveillance law on Wednesday, complained Thursday that Mukasey had gone from being "agnostic" to holding a "disturbing view."
Mukasey also said he was against a federal shield for journalists. He said that the current system has worked "passably well" and that any problems could likely be solved by changes to internal Justice Department rules.