There are several updates in the ongoing fallout from Michael Mukasey's patently false claims made in the speech he delivered several weeks ago in San Francisco regarding FISA and the 9/11 attacks. This week, Mukasey responded to a letter he received from John Conyers and two other Subcommittee Chair in which Mukasey acknowledged (because he was forced to) that the call he claimed originated from an "Afghan safe house" into the U.S. was fictitious, but he nonetheless vaguely asserted that his underlying point -- that FISA unduly restricted pre-9/11 eavesdropping and prevented detection of those attacks -- was somehow still accurate.
In the reply sent on Mukasey's behalf (.pdf), the DOJ claimed that the telephone call did not originate from Afghanistan but from another country he refused to identify, and further claimed that the call Mukasey was referencing was discussed in the Joint Inquiry Report -- which, as I noted when I first received the same explanation from the DOJ, reached the opposite conclusion of the one Mukasey was trying to advance: namely, that Report concluded that the Bush administration had all the authority it needed under FISA to intercept and investigate any such calls, and its failure to do so had nothing to do with any supposedly excessive constraints imposed by law.
In reply, Conyers sent another rather scathing letter and made those points. He complained about Mukasey's "failure to address several of our specific inquiries" and, more importantly, "far from supporting the Administration’s position on reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the incident referred to in your March 27 speech leads to precisely the opposite conclusion." Specifically:
Based on the April 10 letter and other information from the Department, it now appears that the incident mentioned in your March 27 remarks concerned phone communication between a future 9/11 hijacker while in the U.S. and a known terrorist facility in the Middle East, which was in fact discussed by the Congressional intelligence committees in their report on 9/11. As the committees explained, however, the failure to utilize the information in this call had nothing to do with limitations in FISA, contrary to what your March 27 speech appeared to suggest.
Yesterday, an even more critical letter was sent to Mukasey by Senators Bob Casey and Sheldon Whitehouse which, as they ought to have done, explicitly accused the Attorney General of falsely exploiting the 9/11 attacks to advance the President's political demands for greater eavesdropping powers and telecom amnesty. Their letter cited the comments from Lee Hamilton and Philip Zelikow which I reported last week, and said:
Your remarks in San Francisco, given the subsequent denials by Congressman Hamilton and Dr. Zelikow, are troubling. Our understanding is that it is patently untrue. . . . Regrettably, since well before you became Attorney General, senior Administration officials have made questionable assertions about FISA safeguards hampering the ability of our intelligence community to detect terrorist threats. They have advanced the incorrect impression that unnecessary legal safeguards allowed Al Qaeda operatives to plot the most deadly terrorist attack in American history. It is regrettable that you have now joined this pattern. Based on our regard for your office, and the principle that public debate over political issues should be based on facts, we urge you to correct the remarks you made on March 27th in San Francisco.
There is simply no avoiding the fact, as Casey and Whitehouse make clear, that Mukasey simply lied in his speech in order to exploit the 9/11 attacks for political gain. Needless to say, lying that way is tawdry and reprehensible, but it's not a crime and Mukasey isn't going to be prosecuted for it. But what it should accomplish -- and the fact that Bob Casey is willing to send a letter this explicit suggests that it will -- is forever dispel the notion that Mike Mukasey is some sort of trans-partisan, apolitical Man of Honor and Integrity whose pronouncements can be trusted even when the statements of other Bush officials cannot be.
The Bush administration and the Beltway media have long played this shell game where they single out the two or three senior Bush officials who are designated as the Serious, Honorable Officials who float above the political deceit that characterizes the Bush administration. That, of course, was how even Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld were long depicted.
But just as was true for them, and recently Mike McConnell, and so many before them, Mike Mukasey has now been exposed as being as willing as every other Bush official to spew outright falsehoods in pursuit of the never-ending Bush fear-mongering campaign for still-greater unchecked power and still-less accountability, even if it means tearfully manipulating the victims of the 9/11 attacks when spewing his falsehoods. Whatever else is true, this episode ought forever to dispel any doubt about what Mike Mukasey really is.