The Jewish Daily Forward; September 19, 2007
To those who know him, retired federal judge Michael Mukasey, an Orthodox Jew and political conservative, is a jurist who kept his politics and religion out of the courtroom.
That’s in marked contrast to his predecessor, the scandal-plagued Alberto Gonzales, who resigned this month despite President Bush’s best efforts to retain him. Gonzales’s tenure was marked by his loyalty to Bush and by an oft-repeated only-in-America story of his being the child of Mexican immigrants.
As a judge, Mukasey broke with the White House on a key anti-terrorism issue by ruling that a suspect must have access to a lawyer. And unlike some other judges, he has abjured involvement in Jewish advocacy.
“Some judges have improperly remained active in Jewish organizational life while they were on the bench,” said Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Congress. “It’s a testament to his probity that he was not among them.”
That does not mean his Judaism is not deeply felt.
Mukasey, 66, is a lifelong congregant at Kehillath Jeshurun on New York City’s Upper East Side. He was educated at its Ramaz school, and his wife served for a time as the school’s headmistress. He is close friends with another congregant, Jay Lefkowitz, a top Washington lawyer and a veteran of the Soviet Jewry advocacy movement who is Bush’s special envoy for human rights in North Korea.
Lefkowitz rushed to praise the selection, as did another top Jewish conservative, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol.
Orthodox groups were not shy about claiming Mukasey.
“He’s a man of impeccable character, and it’s nice to see someone from the community nominated to such an important position,” said Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s Washington director.
Mukasey would be the second Jewish attorney general. Ed Levi, who served under President Ford in the mid-1970s, also was known for his independent streak. Mukasey has close ties, dating back to his days as an assistant US attorney in the 1960s, to Rudy Giuliani, a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination. The former New York City mayor lost no time in endorsing Mukasey’s nomination, raising the possibility that the retired judge could straddle two administrations should Giuliani win the presidency in November 2008.
A defendant in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing tried to make Mukasey’s Kehillath Jeshurun membership an issue. He filed an appeal to remove Mukasey as a judge, arguing that his allegiances would prejudice him against Muslims.
Appellate judges dismissed the concerns as “utterly irrelevant.”
Similarly, in the appropriate forums, Mukasey is not uncomfortable about baring his conservative credentials. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last month, Mukasey lent considerable intellectual weight to Bush administration arguments that applying conventional legal mores to terrorism suspects is counterproductive.
“The rules that apply to routine criminals who pursue finite goals are skewed, and properly so, to assure that only the highest level of proof will result in a conviction,” Mukasey wrote. “But those rules do not protect a society that must gather information about, and at least incapacitate, people who have cosmic goals that they are intent on achieving by cataclysmic means.”
Yet in the courtroom, Mukasey strictly adhered to case law and precedent, according to those who worked with him.
“In a criminal sphere I saw that he was very fair, and gave the defense a chance to try its chase,” said Baruch Weiss, a criminal defense lawyer who during his stint as a federal prosecutor appeared before Mukasey. “He wasn’t afraid to rule on behalf of the government or the defense.”
Weiss said the only sign he saw of Mukasey’s Judaism was that “he knew how to pronounce my name, unlike a lot of other judges.”
Mukasey’s extensive dealings with terrorism underscore how much that issue has become the Bush administration’s focus in its final days, Stern said.
“What obviously propels the Mukasey nomination forward, because there are lots of people who hold his views on terrorism, is that he’s strong but credible, and that shows how strong those issues of have become to the administration,” he said.
Yet, for Stern, a nominee chosen on the basis of his stance on terrorism alone offered cause for concern.
“He’s a cipher on abortion, he’s a cipher on civil rights, he’s a cipher on all the hot-button issues that move the administration’s base,” Stern said.
The AJCongress has called for a rigorous confirmation process.
The above article can be found here: http://www.forward.com/articles/11649/
‘Mukasey declines to create US task force to investigate mortgage fraud’
The New York Times; June 6, 2008
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey rejected on Thursday the idea of creating a national task force to combat the country’s mortgage fraud crisis, calling the problem a localized one akin to “white-collar street crimes.”
Mr. Mukasey made clear that he saw the mortgage fraud problem at the root of the nation’s housing crisis as a serious one. But he said he was confident that the Justice Department’s current approach — using local prosecutors’ offices around the country to oversee separate FBI investigations — was adequate.
Since he took over as attorney general last November, Mr. Mukasey has grappled with how best to deal with the law enforcement side of the growing housing crisis. He said in March, for instance, that the Justice Department was still struggling to determine whether there was a “larger criminal story” behind the housing crisis.
He gave his most definitive answer on Thursday in a briefing for reporters, saying that he did not think that the kind of national task force created at the Justice Department in 2002 to investigate the collapse of Enron was “the proper response” to the current crisis.
Some critics have called for the same sort of broad federal law enforcement response seen in the Enron case and a wave of other corporate scandals earlier this decade, or in the collapse of the savings and loan industry in the 1980s and 1990s.
“This is disappointing,” Representative Barney Frank, the [Jewish] Massachusetts Democrat who leads the House financial services committee, said in an interview about Mr. Mukasey’s remarks.
Calling the mortgage crisis, “worse than Enron,” Mr. Frank said, “Enron didn’t cause a worldwide recession. This has more innocent victims.”
Mr. Frank noted that a $2.4 billion bill to prevent mortgage foreclosure, which has already passed the House, includes a provision backed by Republicans to provide an additional $300 million for law enforcement officials to fight mortgage fraud. He questioned how that money could be spent without a more centralized effort.
But administration officials maintain that they are aggressively investigating fraud allegations growing out of the housing crisis, with or without a national task force to coordinate the effort.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating 19 major corporate fraud cases related to the mortgage crisis. The targets of most of those investigations have not been disclosed. In addition, the FBI has 1,380 small mortgage fraud investigations now open in field offices around the country, a sharp increase over previous years, officials said.
Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who leads the Senate banking committee, said Mr. Mukasey’s comments suggested that the administration “vastly underestimates the scope of this problem.”
Mr. Dodd said in a statement that “millions of borrowers were lured into mortgages they could not afford by unscrupulous lenders and brokers, resulting in a housing crisis that has affected neighborhoods across America. The administration ought to be aggressively pursuing the perpetrators of these abusive practices.”
John C. Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School who specializes in corporate law, said that so far, the office of the New York attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, appeared to have adopted a more aggressive approach to investigating possible mortgage fraud by major Wall Street firms than have his federal counterparts.
“One area the attorney general should be concerned about is securities fraud at the core of our investment banking system,” Professor Coffee said. “The allegation that deserves attention is that these firms were knowingly packaging these securities with the knowledge that the quality of the collateral had materially deteriorated without disclosing that change.”
The practice, he added, appears to reflect “a systemic problem, with the red lights blinking.”
Mr. Mukasey, in his comments to reporters, acknowledged that particular markets had problems at almost every stage of the housing process. Mortgage holders were not told the true terms of their loans, homes were overvalued, and investment firms put together mortgage-backed securities packages in ways that inflated their true value.
“That has happened over and over again,” Mr. Mukasey said of the problems. “Someone that I met with characterized it as white-collar street crime.”
But the attorney general said local jurisdictions were in the best position to investigate, and he noted several major prosecutions had already been brought in federal court in the Eastern District of New York.
“There will be more and we will prosecute it, where we see it,” he said. “There’s always more we can do. That said, I don’t see what you call the Enron-type task force. This isn’t that type of phenomena.”
The above article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/06/business/06justice.html?_r=1
‘Bush burns Hanukkah candle at both ends’
The Jewish Daily Forward; September 19, 2007
Washington — President Bush had a day full of Jews last Monday.
The Jewish festivities began at a discussion that Bush held with 15 Jewish communal leaders who escaped religious persecution in their countries of origin. After that, he moved on to a Hanukkah candle lighting, where a menorah that belonged to the great-grandfather of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was lit.
Then it was on to the party — the evening event was the largest Hanukkah gathering the White House has seen, with more than 500 Jewish guests standing in the receiving line for a handshake and a holiday photo with Bush and the first lady.
Bush’s Hanukkah tradition exceeds any other Jewish celebration offered by his predecessors. While former presidents held one “holiday celebration” for all religions, it was Bush who started the tradition of having a Hanukkah event for the Jewish community, as well as an Iftar dinner for Muslims during the month of Ramadan.
In what became a trademark of his relations with the Jewish community, Bush dedicated his annual meeting with Jewish leaders to community figures who are not part of the formal Jewish establishment. This year, it was a group composed of Jews who were born outside the United States and fled their countries because of religious persecution. Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, who came from the 500-member Abayudaya community in Eastern Uganda and lives in Los Angeles, sat on Bush’s left.
In the initial planning stages, the theme of the White House event was supposed to be a commemoration of the Soviet Jewry movement. But as preparations advanced, a source in the organized Jewish community said, the theme was broadened and finally reflected the larger issue of human rights and the struggle of Jews for freedom all around the world.
The president did invite two former Soviet refuseniks: Yuli Edelstein, who is now deputy speaker of Israel’s Knesset, and Vladimir Kvint from New York. Edelstein later said that he told Bush he is hoping to see him soon in Israel; in response, he received the first formal confirmation from the president regarding his plan to visit Israel in early January 2008.
Bush focused his discussion with the Jewish leaders on issues relating to freedom and human rights, avoiding mention of the current negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
“America must stay engaged in helping people realize the great blessings of religious freedom,” Bush said after the meeting.
The bigger event was the evening Hanukkah celebration. For the past three years, the party has offered a chance for the White House to make its entire kitchen kosher for a day. The operation was overseen by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Chabad’s Washington representative. Shemtov said it was first lady Laura Bush who insisted the whole kitchen be koshered instead of bringing in only a limited amount of kosher food.
“They had everything, from lamb chops to latkes,” one of the guests said.
The big-ticket guests at the reception were the Jewish officials in Bush’s administration, including Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Bush’s chief of staff, Joshua Bolten.
The guest list also included representatives from most Jewish groups, religious streams and political parties. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a key supporter of the Republican Party and of Israel’s Likud party, was among the guests spotted.
Though the holiday celebration steered clear of politics, some in the crowd managed to find hidden references in the president’s speech.
Nathan Diament, the Washington representative of the Orthodox Union — which is at the forefront of a campaign to avoid any future division of Jerusalem — wrote on his blog that he was “especially pleased” to hear the president’s remarks about the Maccabees, who, Bush said, “liberated the capital city of Jerusalem. As they set about rededicating the holy temple, they witnessed a great miracle.”
The above article can be found here: http://www.forward.com/articles/12249/
In early 2009, newly-elected US president (and Zionist front-man) Barack Obama replaced Mukasey with Eric Holder, making the latter the first Afro-American in US history to hold the position of attorney general — 800