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Arizona Senator Jon Kyl on the Mukasey nomination as Attorney General

Monday, September 17, 2007

HH: Joined now by, coincidentally but certainly gratefully, Arizona’s fine Republican Senator, Jon Kyl. Good to talk to you, Senator, good to have you on this afternoon.

JK: Well, thanks, Hugh, and it’s great to have you back in the Arizona market. Welcome.

HH: It’s good to be there. Now we called because you’re on Judiciary, and we’ve got the nomination of a new Attorney General in Mukasey, Judge Mukasey today. What’s that look like from your perspective?

JK: Actually, I think it looks pretty good. He will be supported, I think, by virtually all if not all Republicans, and Democrats are having a hard time finding anything wrong with him. It started out with Chuck Schumer from New York, who knows then-Judge Mukasey, and has a lot, they have a lot of mutual friends who obviously appreciate his long 18 year tenure as a judge on that very busy and important circuit, and a prosecutor before that. And Chuck Schumer has to recognize as a Senator of New York the qualities of this great New York judge. So he’s had some nice things to say about him, too, but I would caution my conservative friends, just because Schumer has said nice things about Judge Mukasey, it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with him.

HH: Well, we had Frances Townsend on before you, and we’re going to have Andy McCarthy on later. They’ve all worked with Judge Mukasey, and in terrorism cases, and he’s a tough guy. He’s the real deal when it comes to prosecuting terror. But Patrick Leahy won’t be committing to a hearing schedule, Jon Kyl.

JK: No, Patrick Leahy wants to draw this out. The average time for confirming a U.S. attorney general is three and a half weeks. And Patrick Leahy himself, and others on the Democratic side of the Senate, have been lamenting the fact that the Department of Justice has so many vacancies. Nine out of the fifteen top positions in the Department of Justice are currently vacant, or have just acting people in it, and of course, the Attorney General himself is now gone. And they were urging that we try to do something about it. Now they have a chance. But my guess is, in order to either blackmail the administration to coughing up documents for purely political purposes to keep beating a dead horse, they will take far longer than the average time to confirm Judge Mukasey as Attorney General.

HH: Have you met Judge Mukasey yet, Senator Kyl?

JK: Yes, in fact, I spoke with him this morning. We went through a number of issues, and I found him to be very pleasant. He’s got a great, dry sense of humor. But you’re right, he’s a no nonsense tough judge, especially when it comes to bad guys like terrorists, as many of them learned. Can I just read one thing to you?

HH: Sure.

JK: The circuit courts of appeal, as you know, rarely makes specific comments about judges.

HH: Right.

JK: District court judges…Judge Mukasey was there 18 years, highly respected. Here’s what they said in the famous 1993 World Trade Center bombing case, where they affirmed his verdict, his judgments there. And this is what they said, writing of Judge Mukasey. “The trial judge, the Honorable Michael B. Mukasey, presided with extraordinary skill and patience, assuring fairness to the prosecution and to each defendant, and helpfulness to the jury. He was an outstanding achievement in the face of challenges far beyond those normally endured by a trial judge.” Have you ever read in a circuit court opinion a statement like that about the district court judge?

HH: No. Normally, you’ll get a backhanded criticism, and even that’s mute. Rarely do you get praise, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen praise like that.

JK: Right. So he’s got an excellent reputation, and particularly in these terrorism cases. He’s known to be fair but tough.

HH: Did you discuss with him the FISA reauthorization, and whether or not he will be working hard for that, as Mike McConnell did the last time around, as did Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff did?

JK: We raised a number of items that were on the Congressional agenda, which would be within the purview of the Attorney General. And let me just generally say that, and of course, that is obviously among the top of the issues that are on our agenda. And he indicated a real strong desire to learn as much as he can, as quickly as he can, and he said even beyond the hearing confirmation process itself, he says, will be a continuing learning process, and he’s looking forward to it.

HH: Now can you give us an update on Leslie Southwick and other nominations for the bench?

JK: I wish I could tell you when Southwick is going to be voted on by the full Senate. I hope it will be soon. Leader McConnell is looking for the right time, and I think at that point, we will insist on it from the Democrats, and I believe that when he’s ready, we’ll get that vote. But I can’t tell you when it’ll be.

HH: Any other circuit court judges coming out of the Committee?

JK: We have another one scheduled for this coming Thursday morning. And then beyond that, I’m not sure. But the administration is going to be filling all of the vacancies. They’re in the process of doing it right now. And one of the great frustrations that both you and I have had, is that the administration itself has not sent names. One of the reasons for that, by the way, is that you had Republican Senators, as well as Democrats, fighting about who the nominees were going to be for circuit courts. But my understanding is now they’ve got their nominees determined, and they will be sending up the remainder of the list very, very soon. I mean, I believe in a matter of days.

HH: No surprise to you, Senator Kyl, you’ve got a particular interest in the D.C. Circuit, that’s where I clerked. Peter Keisler is the nominee.

JK: Right.

HH: Any movement there?

JK: No, and the Democrats have tried to suggest that there isn’t going to be. We, of course, would…I mean, he’s still pending, and we hope to get him up. He may be, by the way, the acting Attorney General, as of right away.

HH: Why? What happened to Paul Clement?

JK: Well, Paul Clement, our Solicitor General, is in the process of preparing for a very busy October term of the Court.

HH: I see.

JK: He’s the number one person in the Justice Department who argues cases on behalf of the people of the United States and the Justice Department. He’s great at it. He’s got to focus on that, and not run the Department of Justice. And I’m not sure when any announcements might be made, but at least I know that they’re hoping that Peter Keisler will yet sacrifice again and act as the Attorney General.

HH: Have you discussed with the President or senior administration officials recess appointment, Senator Kyl?

JK: In general terms, not specific individuals.

HH: And are they willing to go that route if this Democratic Senate continues to obstruct.

JK: They haven’t been so far.

HH: Okay. Do you want them to?

JK: Yes. If we’re not able to get people like Peter Keisler up, for example, what’s the point of all of this alleged cooperation?

HH: Agreed. Now there is also, I’m getting e-mails from the usual suspects telling me that there’s a big, new immigration bill being cooked up and snuck through the Senate and the House. What’s going on there?

JK: No, at least not that I’m aware of. But there are lots of little immigration ideas that are being cooked up. One of the amendments that might be offered on the defense authorization bill which is before us right now is this so-called Dream Act of Senator Durbin. There is also talk about trying to run through something called Ag Jobs. Ag Jobs is a bill that we beat three years ago that would give amnesty to agricultural workers, and a different version of that was negotiated and was part of the immigration bill that I helped to draft, the bill that was defeated. But Ag Jobs is not going to pass, even though some members might like to see it. And there may be efforts to put other pieces of the previous immigration bill, or aspects of immigration reform before the Senate as amendments to this bill or that.

HH: Senator Kyl, we’re out of time. Always a pleasure, great to be talking to you live in Phoenix again, as well as across the country, and I look forward to talking to you again soon.

End of interview.

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