Michael Mukasey, President George W. Bush’s last attorney general, has added his voice to a growing conservative chorus of condemnation against Liz Cheney’s attacks on Department of Justice lawyers who represented Guantanamo Bay detainees.
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Mukasey argues that an ad from Keep America Safe, the pressure group headed by former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, is part of a “shoddy and dangerous” trend of politicizing the work of lawyers.
“It is plainly prudent for us to assure that no government lawyers are bringing to their public jobs any agenda driven by views other than those that would permit full-hearted enforcement of laws,” Mukasey wrote.
“But that prudence is not properly exercised by arguing that lawyers who defended drug cases, or worked on defense teams in death-penalty cases, or helped bring legal proceedings in behalf of those detained as terrorists, are automatically to be identified with their former clients and regarded as a fifth column within the Justice Department.”
Mukasey drew parallels between the attacks on what Keep America Safe calls the “Al Qaeda Seven” to the controversy swirling over torture memo authors Jay Bybee and John Yoo. The former attorney general argued that attracting good lawyers to the Justice Department means bringing in people who have worked on controversial cases.
“If the Department of Justice comes to attract only lawyers who have spent their professional energy principally in avoiding matters of controversy, the quality of lawyers willing to serve at the department will decline, and the department will suffer, as will we all,” Mukasey concluded.
Mukasey’s voice is the latest among conservatives to criticize the Keep America Safe campaign, which has attracted plenty of coverage in the mainstream media.
The New York Times noted on Tuesday that even Yoo himself objected to the campaign, though for different reasons than Mukasey’s.
“What’s the big whoop?” Yoo asked, as quoted at the Times. “The Constitution makes the president the chief law enforcement officer. We had an election. President Obama has softer policies on terror than his predecessor.”
Yoo added that the president “can and should put people into office who share his views,” and the public can then “decide whether they agree with him or not.”
Earlier this week, 19 former members of the Bush administration signed a letter condemning Liz Cheney’s group for launching the attack. Among the signatories was Ken Starr, the lawyer known best for his turn as special prosecutor investigating the Clinton administration.
“This was very unwise, and really an out-of-bounds characterization and challenge to good, honorable lawyers,” Starr said on MSNBC’s Countdown With Keith Olbermann. He called the ads “unfortunate” and “ill-conceived.”
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham also attacked the Keep America Safe ad.
“This system of justice that we’re so proud of in America requires the unpopular to have an advocate and every time a defense lawyer fights to make the government do their job, that defense lawyer has made us all safer,” he told The Cable.