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Schumer Torn on Mukasey

With a crucial Judiciary Committee vote on attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey scheduled for Tuesday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) finds himself in a conundrum as fellow Democrats begin to turn against the man he publicly recommended for the nation’s top law enforcement spot.

The liberal firebrand who led the fight against former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could find himself in the unusual position of siding with a minority of Democrats to vote in favor of fellow New Yorker Mukasey during next week’s Senate Judiciary Committee vote on the nomination.

And a senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee indicated that may be the case, predicting Wednesday that if Mukasey survives Tuesday’s vote, he will win Senate confirmation. Enough Democrats should join Senate Republicans to ensure Mukasey’s installment as the next attorney general, the Senator said.

“If he gets through committee, it’s almost assured,” this Democrat said.

Still, it’s unclear how Schumer will vote on the nomination because the well-known spotlight seeker has been uncharacteristically mum on Mukasey’s continued refusal to clearly define waterboarding — an interrogation technique in which a detainee is subjected to a simulated drowning — as torture and illegal in the United States.

Asked Wednesday whether he was being noncommittal on Mukasey’s nomination, Schumer replied, “I am not commenting at the moment is what I am.”

Schumer said he was still evaluating Mukasey’s carefully crafted response to Democrats’ questions on his waterboarding stance, even as fellow Judiciary Committee members came out almost immediately Tuesday evening saying his response raised serious questions. Additionally, all the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates — including Schumer’s Empire State colleague Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — have come out against Mukasey’s nomination.

In a Tuesday letter to committee Democrats, Mukasey contended that waterboarding is “repugnant”and cannot be used by the military, but he said he could not say it is illegal across the board based on “hypothetical facts and circumstances.”

Democrats on the committee deflected questions about whether Schumer’s early endorsement of Mukasey has made it more difficult for them to oppose the attorney general hopeful based on his positions on both torture and executive power.

“You ask a valid question, but you should ask it of Sen. Schumer,” Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said. “Seriously, I will make up my mind by myself. I’m not lobbying anybody one way or the other.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — another Judiciary member and potential rival to Schumer in a future race for Democratic leader — said he did not hold anything against Schumer.

“I think Judge Mukasey was sailing through there until ... I asked him about five different kinds of torture,” said Durbin, who stated Wednesday that he would oppose the nomination.

Both Leahy and Durbin said they did not know whether Mukasey would garner enough votes in committee. “The question is, is there a Democrat ... or more than one Democrat who will vote with the Republicans?” Durbin asked.

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