WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday defended Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey's refusal to say whether he considers waterboarding a form of torture, saying it is a difficult issue to discuss in public.
"These are complicated questions," White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said. "Judge Mukasey, I think, did the best he could to be responsible in not talking about interrogation techniques which, as you all know, we decline to do."
Mukasey, a retired federal judge who has ruled in some of the nation's highest-profile terror trials, frustrated Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday by repeatedly refusing to discuss the legality of specific interrogation techniques _ including forced nudity, mock executions and simulated drowning known as waterboarding. Mukasey said he did not know if waterboarding is torture because he is not familiar with how it is done.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., indicated he'll wait to get clearer answers from Mukasey before scheduling a committee vote to confirm him.
Leahy has given committee members until 5:00 p.m. EDT on Oct. 25 to submit more questions to Mukasey, who would then need time to return those answers to the panel.
The next committee meeting at which his nomination might be voted is Nov. 1. If the committee endorses Mukasey for the post, the nomination would proceed to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.
For now, senators were mulling Mukasey's answers during the two-day hearing, most notably those on interrogation techniques.
Fratto said Mukasey has not been briefed on any of the government's classified programs that have been created since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"There are certain issues that are very difficult to speak about in a public setting _ particularly difficult for an attorney general nominee who has not been read into classified programs and wouldn't be until he has been sworn in as an attorney general," Fratto said. "These are very complex problems and they don't lend themselves to shorthand responses."