Giuliani Pals Chertoff and Mukasey: Putting the Squeeze on Civil Liberties?

Even before he was sworn in as the nation’s 81st attorney general–the second Jewish one, after Edward H. Levi–Michael Mukasey had soared to the top of “The Forward 50.” The Nov. 12 edition of the Jewish weekly counted him first among equals (the 50 most influential American Jews). While describing Mukasey as “distant from the circles of power,” The Forward explained that the successor to the discredited Alberto Gonzales displayed “a strong record in judging terrorism cases, full support for Bush’s post-9/11 USA PATRIOT Act [“Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”] and–having first been proposed by New York Democrat Charles Schumer–a seeming promise of easy Senate confirmation.”

The Forward went on to point out that “together with another Jewish cabinet member, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff [who somehow failed to make the list], Mukasey will be responsible for shaping America’s anti-terrorism policy.”

Given the two men’s histories and stances on “anti-terror” cases and legislation, however, this is not necessarily a reassuring prospect for proponents of civil liberties at home and abroad.

In addition to their shared religion–although, unlike Chertoff (and Schumer), Mukasey is an Orthodox Jew–the two Bush administration cabinet members have a long-time association with Republican presidential candidate and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani–”as, indeed, does the publicity-happy Schumer.

In fact, their New York-New Jersey web of alliances is so tangled as to be almost inextricable. Since the Schumer strand is the simplest, let’s start with that.

The Schumer-Giuliani Connection

In 1974, the year he graduated from Harvard Law School, Schumer ran for and was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he served three terms. In 1980, when then-Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman won the Democratic nomination for Senate, Schumer ran for her House seat–”and won again. (In fact, he has never lost an election.)

According to Wayne Barrett’s article “No Skeletons in My Closet!” in the Oct. 30, 2007 Village Voice, however, Brooklyn’s then-U.S. Attorney Ray Dearie (now a federal judge for the Eastern District of New York) recommended that Schumer be indicted for alleged improprieties in his election campaign. But in 1983 Dearie’s recommendation was squashed in Washington–by then-Associate Attorney General Rudolph Giuliani.

Ten years later Giuliani was elected mayor of New York. “Schumer’s wife, Iris Weinshall, held several top posts” in the Giuliani administration, Barrett reports, ultimately serving as commissioner of transportation. In fact, Barrett adds, Weinshall was one of only two top aides Giuliani asked his successor, Michael Bloomberg, to retain at City Hall when the latter assumed office in 2002 (after Giuliani decided against trying to amend the law to allow him to seek an extra term).

Having submitted Mukasey’s name as a possible Supreme Court nominee in June 2003, now-Senator Schumer first suggested him as a candidate for attorney general on “Meet the Press” in March 2007. (Schumer also was an enthusiastic backer of the nomination as homeland security chief of Bernard Kerik, the recently indicted former Giuliani chauffeur and business partner.) When Mukasey’s nomination stalled after he refused to say whether he considered waterboarding a form of torture, Schumer was one of only two Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (the other being Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California) to back the Republican nominee, effectively clearing the way for his confirmation as attorney general.

Mukasey: Giuliani’s “Close Friend And Associate” of 35 Years

After clerking with Judge Lloyd MacMahon, a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York, Giuliani joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for that same district in 1970. Two years later, Mukasey became a fellow assistant U.S. attorney there, leaving in 1976 to join the New York law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler–where Giuliani also practiced law from 1977 to 1981, during the Democratic administration of President Jimmy Carter.

With the Republican return to power in 1981, Giuliani was named by President Ronald Reagan as associate attorney general. Two years later he was appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where one of his most visible cases, lasting from February 1985 to November 1986, was the so-called Mafia Commission trial of seven organized crime figures.

Meanwhile, on the recommendation of then-U.S. Senator and staunch supporter of Israel Alphonse D’Amato (R-NY), in 1987 President Reagan nominated Mukasey for a federal judgeship for the Southern District of New York. Mukasey assumed the position in 1988–the year before Giuliani’s first, losing campaign for mayor–and served for 18 years, the final six (March 2000 through July 2006) as chief judge.

In 1994 and 1998 (the latter being the year D’Amato lost his Senate seat–to then-Rep. Chuck Schumer), Mukasey administered the mayoral oath of office to Giuliani, described by The Washington Post as his “close friend and associate.”

As a federal judge, Mukasey presided over the trials of Egyptian Sheikh Omer Abdel Rahman and El Sayyid Nosair on charges of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks, and of Jose Padilla, the American citizen charged, with Mukasey’s approval, as an enemy combatant (although the judge did rule that Padilla was entitled to see his lawyers).

These rulings didn’t come cheap. Beginning in 1993, when he was assigned the landmarks trial (which lasted three years), Mukasey and his wife received round-the-clock protection from the U.S. Marshals Service. Twelve years and an estimated $28 million later–including for such expenses as $1,667 in monthly rent the judge charged his security detail for an eight-month stay in 2002 at his Long Island vacation home in the Hamptons–the “Eagle Detail” ended. It didn’t die a natural death, however. As USA Today reported, it was withdrawn in 2005 after “deputy marshals protecting Mukasey and U.S. District Judge Kevin T. Duffy filed a grievance accusing the two jurists and their wives of assigning them valet-like chores.”

According to the paper, while the costs for Mukasey’s security detail totaled $3.7 million in 2000 alone, security for fellow Judge Leonard Sands, who also was presiding over a major terror trial that year, came to $1,985.

In its write-up of Mukasey, The Forward noted that Mukasey “made a point of confining his Jewish involvement to household and congregation while on the bench.” Nevertheless, it acknowledged, “defendants facing him on terrorism charges asked for a different judge–something that wasn’t true of other Jewish judges.”

After retiring as a federal judge in 2006, Mukasey returned to private practice as a partner with his and Giuliani’s former firm of Patterson Belknap, reportedly earning nearly $2 million in the months before he was nominated as attorney general. As a private citizen, he contributed to Giuliani’s presidential campaign in 2007 and, the previous year, to “Friends of Joe Lieberman,” his formerly Democratic next door neighbor and adamant Israel-firster.

Along with his stepson, Marc Mukasey, the new attorney general–who has said he would recuse himself from any case involving Giuliani–was a member of the Giuliani campaign’s Justice Advisory Committee. The younger Mukasey is in charge of white-collar criminal defense at the New York office of Bracewell & Giuliani, which is trying to put as much distance as possible between the former mayor and Kerik, the Giuliani protégé short-lived nominee as secretary of Homeland Security.

Chertoff and Giuliani: Give Me a Break!

After Kerik’s nomination went down in flames, he was successfully succeeded by Michael Chertoff, who has held the position since early 2005. The son of a rabbi and El Al’s first stewardess, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1978–four years after fellow alumnus Schumer.

After clerking for Supreme Court Justice William Brenner, Jr. and working in private practice from 1980 to 1983 for the law firm of Latham and Watkins, Chertoff was hired as an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan by then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani, who made Chertoff his principal assistant on the Mafia Commission case. Chertoff got his big break when Giuliani decided to focus on a municipal corruption scandal, leaving Chertoff to handle the case.

The up-and-coming prosecutor then served as first assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey, where he was born, from 1987 to 1990, when President George H.W. Bush named him U.S. attorney for the state. Among the events that took place during his four-year tenure were the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the arrest and trial of Sheikh Omer Abdel Rahman and El Sayyid Nosair. Since among the landmarks the two were charged with plotting to blow up were the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels connecting New York City with New Jersey, Chertoff worked with the judge hearing the trial–Michael Mukasey.

When the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, Chertoff was the only U.S. attorney not to be replaced, reportedly at the request of then-Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ). Clinton may have regretted that decision, however, because two years later Chertoff accepted the position of special counsel to the committee investigating the Whitewater scandal–headed by Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. In a profile of Chertoff in the Nov. 5, 2001 issue of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin, who described the Whitewater committee as “not a successful chapter in Chertoff’s (or D’Amato’s) career,” observed: “The Whitewater job also marked a sort of coming out as a Republican for Chertoff, who had previously cultivated an apolitical reputation.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, when Chertoff faced confirmation as a federal judge in 2003, the only senator to vote against him was Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).

Prior to his confirmation as a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, however, Chertoff had been appointed assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “As it happens,” wrote Toobin, “Chertoff was the senior Justice Department official on duty at the FBI command center right after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon….By midafternoon of Sept. 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft had cut short an out-of-town trip and returned to Washington to take charge, but Chertoff had set the tone for the law-enforcement reaction on that day and in the weeks that followed.”

Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, “In the days after the attacks, Mukasey and other New York judges worked behind closed doors, seeing some of the first material witnesses detained by federal authorities,” according to the Associated Press.

Fast forward six years–past the USA PATRIOT Act, co-authored by Chertoff and supported by Mukasey, illegal wiretaps, the rounding up of Muslims, and the “deportation” of more than 100 detained Israelis, including the five seen jumping with joy on a New Jersey rooftop as they watched the World Trade Center in flames.

Following Mukasey’s nomination as attorney general, a “top presidential adviser” was quoted in the Sept. 18, 2007 Washington Post as saying that “the focus of the last 16 months of the administration will be ensuring that Bush and his successor [italics added] have the necessary tools to fight terrorists.”

With Mukasey and Chertoff already in place, the transition to a Giuliani administration would be particularly smooth. Perhaps now is the time for a national discussion on which terror-fighting tools are “necessary” and which threaten the rights of all Americans–before it’s too late.