By Araceli Cruz
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
The Democrats who questioned attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey at his recent Senate confirmation hearing outdid one another in a frustrating effort to get the former judge to assert his independence from the Bush White House. With his predecessor, Bush pal Alberto Gonzales, finally forced from office, the senators were hoping for a nominee with fewer complicating relationships.
Fat chance. The question for Mukasey is not what he'll do at Justice for the soon-to-be- departing Republican president, but what he'll do for the putative next one, his lifelong friend Rudy Giuliani. Mukasey and Giuliani were young federal prosecutors together in the early 1970s and then practiced at the same Manhattan law firm, Patterson Belknap, where Mukasey returned in 2006 when he retired after 18 years on the federal bench in New York. Giuliani chose Mukasey to swear him in at his inaugurals in 1994 and 1998.
The question of Mukasey's strong ties to Giuliani got the light touch from Senator Pat Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman who opened the two-day proceeding by saying that he assumed Mukasey would "totally recuse" himself from "any involvement with Mr. Giuliani or any other candidate for president." Mukasey laughed at the question, as if the answer was obvious, and quickly agreed. But that chuckle rings a little hollow when you look at who had come with him to the hearing: his wife Susan, who volunteered almost daily in the Giuliani mayoral campaigns; his stepson Marc, who was a staff assistant in one campaign and currently is a partner at the Texas-based law firm that Giuliani recently joined, Bracewell & Giuliani; and Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who recently endorsed Giuliani and worked closely with him as a federal prosecutor. Marc Mukasey is currently representing Giuliani Partners in the federal probe of Bernard Kerik, a onetime member of the consulting firm. Freeh's appearance, sitting beside the family, was a stark indication of just how unconsciously political Mukasey's key relationships are. (For Democrats on the committee, the sight of Freeh, who led multiple probes of both Clintons, might have been an indication of Mukasey's partisanship. In Freeh's recent autobiography, he concluded that "the presidency hit an all-time low" under Bill Clintonwho named him to head the FBI, only to wind up as the target of multiple Freeh probesadding that if he were Clinton, "I might never show my face in public again.")
Mukasey has so far indicated that he will recuse himself in the ongoing probe of Kerik, the expolice commissioner and onetime Giuliani-backed nominee for homeland security secretary, who has already pleaded guilty in a state case and is facing a mountain of federal charges. But Mukasey's recusal shouldn't really be a problem. The Justice Department agreed months ago to extend the statute of limitations on the case against Kerik to November 17, when his expected indictment may suddenly emerge as a national story haunting the Giuliani campaign. The case is so layered in conflict that Alberto Gonzales is a likely witness. It was Gonzales who vetted Kerik for the homeland-security post in 2004 and was swamped by false claims about him emanating from the fax machines and computers at Giuliani Partners' Times Square headquarters. The Washington Post reported in April that Kerik was "likely" to be indicted for "bald-faced lies" during the White House clearance process, including possible misstatements on forms filled out with the assistance of Giuliani's firm.
The Daily News has more recently reported that Kerik may also be indicted on bribery charges connected to a 1999 meeting in a Tribeca bar with Giuliani's cousin, Ray Casey, who ran the city's trade-waste commission. Kerik was pressuring Casey on behalf of an allegedly mob-tied contractor, which was then seeking a license from the commission to develop a waste-transfer station. The company was already involved in the extensive renovations of Kerik's apartment.
But Kerik is just one of the possible Giuliani-tied cases that Mukasey might be faced with as the new head of Justice. The list of Giuliani connections could also include the California proportional-representation ballot initiative financed by vulture-fund billionaire Paul Singer, which is designed to split up California's 55 electoral votesthe single largest state totalwhich are routinely won by Democratic candidates. Singer assumed a formal title in the Giuliani campaign-finance committee and became his biggest early fundraiser, with Giuliani embracing him despite worldwide condemnations of his dunning of debt-ridden third-world countries. Giuliani has even been flying around the country on Singer's corporate jet, yet his campaign insists that it played no role in the California initiative, which appears designed to benefit Giuliani, the only Republican who polls well in the state. If Giuliani's campaign was involved, the scheme would violate federal campaign laws. That's why a complaint has already been filed with the Federal Election Commission and why the campaign is currently trying to distance itself from Singer, even as a second effort to place the initiative on the state ballotthis one headed by Anne Dunsmore, a former Giuliani finance-committee stafferis getting underway.
Mukasey might also have to deal with a Justice investigation of Ken Caruso, a Giuliani and Mukasey friend who was allegedly involved in the bilking of a prominent Texas Republican donor of millions, according to a recent story by Politico.com. Caruso, who apparently refused to cooperate with a U.S. Senate investigation of the banking scam, is a partner with Marc Mukasey at Bracewell & Giuliani. Both were hired by Giuliani, who set up the firm's Manhattan office in 2005. Caruso is represented by Patterson Belknap, Michael Mukasey's current and Giuliani's former firm.