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Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Morning Session - Continuation of Executive Nomination of Michael Mukasey to be Attorney General of the U.S.

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Location: Washington, DC

Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Morning Session - Continuation of Executive Nomination of Michael Mukasey to be Attorney General of the United States

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SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Senator Grassley, for your consideration.

Mr. Mukasey, or Judge Mukasey, here's your quote: "The department faces challenges vastly different from those it faced when I was assistant U.S. attorney 35 years ago, but the principles that guide the department remain the same: To pursue justice by enforcing the law with unswerving fidelity to the Constitution."

You've answered throughout yesterday many questions in regard to that. I was one U.S. senator who thought that the previous attorney general should not resign, and not for the similar reasons that many of my colleagues did, but because of the management that I saw at the Department of Justice.

What will you do to ensure that this quote and this axiom of loyalty to the Constitution before loyalty to any political appointment is carried out through the depths of the Justice Department?

MR. MUKASEY: Well, Dr. Coburn, I believe in a couple things. One is, you lead by example. You do things that you want other people to do, and you don't ask people to do things you don't want to do yourself. That's one (way ?).

Another is to make certain that if there is any suggestion that there's any problem that would compromise a constitutional standard -- is to get in it up to my elbows, or further, if necessary, and to stop it.

I have pursued up until now hands-on management, to the extent I have managed at all. And I recognize that -- I have a business degree, and I'm not -- I've never managed anything like a 100,000- person agency with a $22 billion budget. Never done it.

But I have had a hands-on management style. I want to continue that. I want to consult with people not only in the immediate leadership but people from below that, so that I understand what it is that's really going on, so that I'm not caught by surprise. I don't like surprises. That's the way I think, to make sure that the standards I try to articulate are maintained. And that's what I hope and plan to do if I'm confirmed.

SEN. COBURN: Thank you.

The Justice Department is unique in the federal government in that it's the only agency that is allowed a percentage of its unexpended balances at the end of the year, to use discretion, to enhance what they do, both in terms of IT and things -- we allow the Justice Department to do that. We don't allow any other agency to do that.

We recently passed a limitation on conferences in the Senate, with specifics to certain groups that were unindicted co-conspirators and others, in real concern about the amount of money the Justice Department spends on conferences. I realize there have to be conferences, though. Can we have a commitment from you that you will approve the budget for conferences and that in fact the conferences will be exactly what is needed and not more and not more frequent, and a real (concerted ?) action that looking at your fiduciary responsibility in terms of the budget of the department, to make sure that the dollars spent there are not wasted?

MR. MUKASEY: I emphatically agree with that. I did not attend many conferences when I was a judge. I attended the judicial conference because I was required by statute to do so. I'm not a big fan of publicly funded get-togethers for the sake of getting together.

SEN. COBURN: Okay. My final question -- and then I will refer back -- won't use all my time.

I'm concerned about morale in the Justice Department. We -- there's no question some management decisions have affected that. We have impacted that by the controversies that -- either real or otherwise, have put before it. What is your plan, in this limited amount of time that you have, to create a vision and a leadership plan that will bring the morale and esprit de corps and the positive thinking back to the Justice Department?

MR. MUKASEY: I agree that perceptions about morale are going to be part of the landscape that I'm going to face at the Justice Department. But I don't want by my words or my actions to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which talk about bad morale creates bad morale.

I think what contributed to and what accounted for the esprit de corps in the office that I served in 35 years ago was that we were doing exciting, worthwhile work that had no standard other than what served the public interest, and that excited and energized people and contributed to great esprit de corps. I want to help people to do that. I want to fill positions. I want to make it possible for people to do their jobs. That's what accounted for this, for the esprit de corps in the office that I was in, and I think that's what promotes it in the department.

SEN. COBURN: Thank you. I want to thank you for your commitment to take on this task for a very short period of the time and just compliment you for being willing to sacrifice. You don't have to do this. You could do other things. And I think it's admirable, and it's one of the qualities of Americans, that they'll serve knowing that the positive benefits for you personally are not going to be great. Thank you.

Thank you, and I yield back.

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