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Mukasey Won’t Enforce the Law — Again

Once again, Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey has announced that he will not be enforcing the law. Taking another “let-bygones-be-bygones” approach, he told the American Bar Assn. yesterday that he’s not going to bother prosecuting anyone in the Justice Dept. for illegally hiring career government lawyers based on political considerations rather than merit.

That’s the second time in recent weeks that Mukasey has insisted that the law need not be enforced. In June, he confirmed in writing that he has no plans to investigate whether senior Bush administration officials broke the law in authorizing the torture and inhumane treatment of terror suspects.

Despite his protests that “not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime,” as he told the ABA yesterday, it’s an odd position for the nation’s leading law enforcement officer to be taking. After all, whether senior government officials authorized and directed others to break the law — either in the treatment of prisoners or the hiring of government officials — goes to the very heart of the integrity of the federal government. Can the chief prosecutor really claim that others ought to abide by the law when he gives a pass to his own colleagues?

When he was nominated, Mukasey was considered a strong bipartisan candidate, someone who commanded respect for his 18 years as a federal judge. But supporters neglected to mention that he had left that esteemed $165,000-a-year position to return to private practice defending white-collar criminals — so that he could earn more than a million dollars a year at the New York law firm Patterson Belknap, where he represented clients like Goldman Sachs and former Enron chief Kenneth Lay.

In his official role as attorney general, Mukasey is the chief legal officer of the United States and also a legal adviser of the executive branch. His primary responsibility is supposed to be to represent the nation. Yet, once again in his career, Mukasey appears to prefer the position of defender of a powerful client rather than enforcer of the law. That may work out well for his return to a corporate legal job in the long run — but it creates a serious problem for the rest of the country today.

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