Thursday, Nov 1, 2007 5:22 PM UTC

Perino on Mukasey: Confirm now, question later

But no promises that he'll answer then, either.

Here’s White House press secretary Dana Perino with some helpful advice for senators who’d like Michael Mukasey to say whether he thinks waterboarding is torture: Confirm him first, then ask him whatever questions you want to ask later.

No, really.

“The president will say [that] the attorney general is a critical member of the nation’s war on terror team and that he needs to be confirmed immediately,” Perino said at today’s White House press briefing. “And once he is confirmed, then the Congress has the capability to ask him to come to Congress and to testify on all sorts of matters, including this one.”

Just one catch, of course: If Mukasey is confirmed and then “read into” the administration’s “enhanced interrogation program,” the White House won’t let him answer questions about waterboarding then, either.

Perino danced around that small complication today. Asked whether the president shares Mukasey’s view that waterboarding is “personally repugnant,” Perino refused to say, explaining that “the president does not talk about any possible techniques that may or may not be used against captured terrorists when they are caught by the United States.”

The following exchange ensued:

Reporter: On the assumption that Judge Mukasey is confirmed and is read into the program — your policy is still not to talk about specific methods. So [if] he is … confirmed, [he's] not going to be in a position to speak about waterboarding as being legal or not.

Perino: Let me remind you of something. Congress passed a law that this president signed regarding the Detainee Treatment Act and, also, Congress said that the CIA’s program for interrogation is legal. They have been briefed on the legal underpinnings and they have been briefed on the techniques. So Congress — the appropriate members of Congress have all the information that they need about these programs. They are safe. They are effective. They are tough. And they are legal. And Judge Mukasey said that he will review all of the opinions and he will review the information he gets in his classified briefings and that he will be able to have additional thought after that. A lot of these discussions are held in closed session, and that’s appropriate because they’re classified — they’re classified for a reason.

Reporter: Understood. But America’s allies in the world, the American people, they will never know whether or not Judge Mukasey is told, so long as the administration’s view prevails.

Perino: I think that’s a hypothetical that I’m just not prepared to go into right now. And I don’t know what Judge Mukasey will or will not say if confirmed.