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Context of 'December 11-14, 2007: Some Politicians Support Special Counsel Investigation over CIA Videotape Destruction'

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Michael Mukasey.Michael Mukasey. [Source: US Department of Justice]After two months of controversy, and a round of sporadically contentious Senate confirmation hearings, former judge Michael Mukasey narrowly wins the Senate’s approval to become the next attorney general, by an almost-party line 53-40 vote. Musakey replaces Alberto Gonzales, who resigned under fire in September 2007. Many Democrats vote against Mukasey because of his refusal to categorize the interrogation technique of waterboarding as torture, and his refusal to say that he would oppose President Bush’s insistence on eavesdropping on US citizens. Some Democrats took comfort in Mukasey’s characterization of waterboarding as “repugnant,” but others were not pleased by his refusal to say that the practice constitutes torture. Two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) refused to block Mukasey from going to the Senate for a confirmation vote. Both indicated that they reluctantly supported Mukasey’s nomination because the Justice Department needs an immediate infusion of leadership—Schumer called the department “adrift and rudderless” and in need of “a strong and independent leader”—and they feared if Mukasey was not confirmed, President Bush would put someone worse in the position as an interim appointment. [CNN, 11/8/2007] Schumer says he eventually decided to vote for Mukasey after the judge said “if Congress passed further legislation in this area, the president would have no legal authority to ignore it and Judge Mukasey would enforce it.” But Schumer’s colleague, Ted Kennedy (D-MA), is unimpressed. “Enforcing the law is the job of the attorney general,” Kennedy says. “It’s a prerequisite—not a virtue that enhances a nominee’s qualifications.” Ben Cardin (D-MD) wonders just how far, and how specifically, Congress will have to go to outlaw torture. He asks, “Are we going to have to outlaw the rack because there’s a question whether the rack is torture in this country?” [National Public Radio, 11/7/2007] Arlen Specter (R-PA), the committee’s ranking Republican, calls Mukasey “ethical, honest [and] not an intimate of the president.” [CNN, 11/8/2007] Mukasey is quietly sworn in only hours after winning the Senate vote. [National Public Radio, 11/9/2007] All four Democratic senators running for president—Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Christopher Dodd (D-CT)—have said they oppose Mukasey’s nomination. Obama calls Mukasey’s refusal to label waterboarding as torture “appalling,” and notes that Mukasey’s belief that the president “enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law or abridge our constitutional freedoms simply by invoking national security” disqualify him for the position. The other candidates make similar statements. [Fox News, 10/30/2007] However, none of them actually show up to cast their vote for or against Mukasey. John McCain (R-AZ), another senator running for president, also does not vote. [Associated Press, 11/8/2007] Three days after Mukasey’s confirmation, the New York Times writes a blistering editorial excoriating both the Bush administration and the compliant Senate Democrats for allowing Mukasey to become attorney general (see November 11, 2007).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, Michael Mukasey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Dianne Feinstein, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Ben Cardin, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Some US lawmakers indicate they may support the appointment of a special counsel to look into the CIA’s destruction of videotapes (see December 6, 2007), in addition to various other inquiries that are launched at this time (see December 7, 2007 and Shortly After).
bullet Initially, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicates he will support a special counsel if the Bush administration impedes a congressional probe and an investigation initiated by the Justice Department: “The CIA, the Justice Department, the Bush White House and every American should know that if these investigations encounter resistance or are unable to find the truth, I will not hesitate to add my voice to those calling for a special counsel.” [The Hill, 12/11/2007]
bullet Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, backs the call. [The Hill, 12/11/2007]
bullet After some lawmakers begin to question whether the Justice Department will properly investigate the scandal (see December 14, 2007), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) expresses some support for a special counsel: “I am concerned whether we are going to get to the real facts… [Because the inquiry is] being very closely held, the question is whether the American people will have a sense that this investigation is on the level. Unless you bring the FBI in, and unless you bring in the possibility of a special prosecutor as they had in Watergate, I am not sure we’ll get to that point.” [Bloomberg, 12/14/2007]
However, a special prosecutor is opposed by some, such as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). [The Hill, 12/11/2007] Attorney General Michael Mukasey calls such appointment “the most hypothetical of hypotheticals.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2007]

Entity Tags: John D. Rockefeller, Harry Reid, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Michael Mukasey, Joseph Biden

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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