[JURIST] Attorney General Michael Mukasey denied Wednesday that proposed Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official website] guidelines would allow agents to open terror investigations based solely on a person's race, religion, or ethnicity. Testifying at a meeting [notice of hearing] of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], Mukasey said that travel to foreign terror "hot spots" would be one of many factors to be considered but refused to discuss hypothetical situations that might lead to an investigation. In a prepared statement [text], Mukasey focused on DOJ efforts to ensure a smooth transfer of power in the upcoming presidential election and called on Congress to pass an amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive], saying that it was vital for national security:
It is also important that we do everything we can to give our national security professionals, who will be confronting the al Qaeda threat in this Administration and the next, the tools they need to keep us safe. Nothing is more important in that regard than the effort to reform and update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The ability to intercept and to analyze the electronic communications of our country’s enemies is the best defensive weapon we have, and I appreciate all the efforts of the members of this Committee and your colleagues in the Senate in this regard.
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said [statement] that Mukasey's testimony would be a chance to address concerns that the DOJ had become politicized under the Bush administration:
The recent report from the Department's Inspector General confirms what our oversight efforts have uncovered about the politicizing of hiring practices at the Department. It confirms our findings and our fears that the same Bush Justice Department officials involved with the firing of United States Attorneys were injecting partisanship into the hiring of young attorneys. I expect further reports from the Inspector General will shed additional light on the extent to which the Bush administration has allowed politics to affect – and infect – the Department's priorities, from law enforcement to the operation of the Civil Rights Division to the Department's hiring practices.
The Department of Justice is not the President’s legal defense team any more than the Attorney General is his lawyer. The Attorney General is not the White House counsel and should not act as one. The Department of Justice is a law enforcement agency, not a partisan political operation. These are the truths that have been overridden in the last seven years.
In response to questioning by committee members over the alleged politicization of the DOJ, Mukasey said that the department was instituting the reforms recommended by the Inspector General [JURIST report] in a June report. AP has more.
Under the proposed FBI guidelines as explained to AP by unnamed sources last week, agents would be able to initiate investigations even in instances where there is no evidence of a crime, something required under current guidelines. Last Thursday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) [advocacy website] decried the plan as "unconstitutional and unAmerican" [press release; JURIST report], saying that it could allow security agents to target Muslims and Arab-Americans for harassment. A US Department of Justice spokesman responding to press reports on the plan – which had neither been finalized nor formally announced – denied that the new guidelines would allow profiling, noting that ethnicity is only one of many factors to be considered and that it is only when all those factors as a whole are deemed suspicious that an investigation can be opened.