The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday he is bothered by Michael Mukasey’s refusal to say whether waterboarding is torture but will support his nomination for attorney general anyway.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., joins two key Senate Democrats in saying he will back Mukasey because the retired judge has said that if Congress passes a law banning waterboarding, “the president would have absolutely no legal authority to ignore such a law.”

“He could have said a lot of things which would have given me more assurances,” Specter said. “But he is intelligent; he’s really learned in the law. He’s strong, ethical, honest beyond any question. He’s not an intimate of the president.”

“And you have to balance it off with where we are today,” said Specter, R-Pa. “The Department of Justice is dysfunctional. It is not performing. And every day that passes, we do not have someone in charge of the investigation against terrorism, the fight against violent crime.”

The Judiciary Committee is set to vote on Mukasey’s nomination Tuesday.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Sunday reiterated his support for Mukasey, even though he said Mukasey’s answers about waterboarding haven’t been totally clear.

“I wanted (Mukasey) to say that waterboarding was torture and illegal,” McCain, a former prisoner of war, told reporters in Mason City, Iowa. “He said that he would get briefed on the procedures.”

The Republican presidential candidate — who is not on the Judiciary Committee — said he received a letter from Mukasey that said the former judge found waterboarding, which simulates drowning, “repugnant and he would never support such a thing.”

Mukasey’s confirmation had been in doubt as five of the panel’s 10 Democrats, including Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, had lined up against Mukasey after he refused to state categorically that waterboarding is illegal.

But last Friday, Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California announced they would support the nomination. With nine Republicans on the panel, Schumer and Feinstein’s support virtually guarantees that a majority of the committee will recommend his confirmation.

Specter previously had been mum on whether he would support Mukasey, citing questions about waterboarding.

On Sunday, Specter said he believed “Judge Mukasey went about as far as he could go” in stating his views because a more categorical answer that waterboarding was illegal could open a wave of lawsuits against administration officials.

“It is very important, in the national interest, that we have a strong attorney general. So I would have liked better assurances,” Specter said. “And I think Congress ought to take a firm stand on waterboarding.”

Specter spoke on CNN’s “Late Edition.”


Associated Press writer Amy Lorentzen in Mason City contributed to this report.

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