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Who heckled Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Pt. II; Update: Sanders confirms

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By Michelle Malkin  •  November 25, 2008 11:25 AM

Scroll for update…Sanders confirms…

Over the weekend, I wrote about Washington state Supreme Court justice Richard Sanders, an old friend of mine from my days in Seattle who had been identified on Friday by lawyer Wendy Long as the man who heckled Attorney General Michael Mukasey during his Federalist Society address.

I received the following non-response response from Justice Sanders last night:

Dear Michelle,

I just returned to the office to find your e-mail and read your column. You might check the Federalist Society web site for a video of the speech. www.fed-soc.org

It does not appear General Mukasey heard anything from the audience except applause. I had personally left the dinner long before he collapsed and first knew of it watching the news from my hotel room the next morning. I respect you and the General. I’m glad he recovered. You are both doing your job in a way both of you sincerely believe is correct…

The question isn’t whether Mukasey heard the heckling or whether Sanders witnessed Mukasey’s collapse, but whether Justice Sanders was the one who shouted “Tyrant. You are a tyrant!” at the Attorney General.

I wrote back:

I understand that you left the dinner before Mukasey collapsed and that you believe that he may not have heard the heckling. But my question is whether you were the heckler. Is this a yes?

The question still has not been answered. And it seems to me that this dodging is, well, injudicious.

Since my post on Saturday, several MSM outlets have also contacted Sanders for comment. The Olympian mistakenly reports: “State justice says he wasn’t at Mukasey’s speech.” Which is not what he wrote to me in his e-mail, nor what he told the Wall Street Journal:

The Law Blog on Monday caught up with the 63-year-old Sanders (pictured, right). Sanders didn’t confirm that he was the one who shouted at Mukasey, but didn’t deny it, either. He said he had “no comment except to say that having reviewed the video of the speech” on the Federalist Society’s web site, “it doesn’t appear that whatever was said was heard by [Attorney] General Mukasey. I left the dinner before the General unfortunately collapsed.” He added that “in my mind a heckler is someone who is making repeated comments audible to the speaker [and] you’ll see that that just didn’t happen.”

The Law Blog watched the video and 17 minutes, 30 seconds into it, the heckler’s voice is clearly heard and Mukasey glances in his direction before resuming the speech.

When asked why he left the room in the middle of Mukasey’s speech, Sanders told us he simply “wanted to go to my [hotel] room.”

Did he or didn’t he?

What is up with that depends-on-the-meaning-of-heckler b.s.? Geez.

James Taranto was at the dinner and noted yesterday that the heckling came from the same table where Sanders was assigned.

A writer at The Olympian has accepted Sanders’ spin (also echoed by the ABA Journal) and is now casting me as a reckless “rumor”-monger — despite the fact that Sanders refuses to comment on whether he was the heckler:

Although the rumor that Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders heckled U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey just before he collapsed is making its rounds on the blogosphere, Sanders says that’s bunk.

Mukasey is back at work, but Michelle Malkin appears to have started the Sanders speculation with her article “Who Heckled Attorney General Michael Mukasey?”

…I talked to Sanders today, and he said he was at the gathering of the Federalist Society at which Mukasey collapsed mid-speech (he was released from a hospital and returned to work). But Sanders said he went back to his hotel before Mukasey spoke.

I asked him specifically about Malkin’s suggestion that he heckled Mukasey.

“As to that, I don’t have any comment. But I wasn’t there when he collapsed. I heard it on television the next morning, I was very sorry to hear it,” Sanders said.

“I wasn’t there when he collapsed” does not equal “I didn’t heckle Mukasey.”

“If Mukasey didn’t hear the heckle, it’s not a heckle” does not equal “I didn’t heckle Mukasey.”

To be clear: I don’t think this is a massive scandal. But I would like to know the truth and I think people in Washington state deserve to know it, too. Sanders earned my deepest respect as I covered his pro-life, pro-liberty stands. When he was unfairly accused of judicial misconduct in the past, I said so. And if I think he violated the spirit of the code of judicial conduct at the Federalist Society dinner, I will say so, too.

A sitting judge acting like an unhinged Code Pink protester would certainly seem to cross the line.

Moreover, dancing around a simple factual question now is, at the very least, annoying. And unseemly.

***

Update: Finally, the truth. Here’s a statement Justice Sanders e-mailed me this evening…

I want to set the record straight about a dinner I attended on November 20, in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Federalist Society — a conservative and libertarian legal group of which I am a member. Attorney General Michael Mukasey was the keynote speaker.

In his speech, Attorney General Mukasey justified the Bush administration’s policies in the War on Terror, which included denying meaningful hearings for prisoners in Guantanamo, and other questionable tactics, all in the name of national security. Mr. Mukasey said those who criticize the Administration for abandoning provisions of the Geneva Conventions fail to recognize that “… Al Qaeda [is] an international terrorist group, and not, the last time I checked, a signatory to the Conventions.” Although the United States is a signatory, and these Conventions prohibit torture, the audience laughed. Attorney General Mukasey received a standing ovation. I passionately disagree with these views: the government must never set aside the Constitution; domestic and international law forbids torture; and access to the writ of habeas corpus should not be denied.

The program provided no opportunity for questions or response, and I felt compelled to speak out. I stood up, and said, “tyrant,” and then left the meeting. No one else said anything. I believe we must speak our conscience in moments that demand it, even if we are but one voice.

I hope those who know my jurisprudence will agree that to truly love the Constitution is to uphold it, to speak out for it, not just in times of peace and prosperity, but also in times of chaos and crisis.

I did not “heckle” Attorney General Mukasey, and I did not disrupt the meeting, as those who watch the video of his speech on the Federalist Society’s website will discover. I left before Mr. Mukasey had his frightening collapse. I learned of his collapse later, from news reports. It should go without saying that, despite our vastly different views on what constitutes upholding the rule of law, I hope he continues to recover and remain in good health.

Update: Sanders is shocked, shocked that anyone paid attention to his outburst:

In the initial days after the event, Sanders, when questioned by other reporters, danced around whether he was the person who shouted at Mukasey. He wouldn’t confirm it, nor would he deny it.

But on Tuesday, Sanders told The Seattle Times that he’d simply reached the point where he couldn’t remain silent.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine there would be any mention of this in the press,” he said. “But here we are.”

The state’s Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to be “dignified” toward those they deal with “in their official capacity.”

Asked if his outburst might violate that code, Sanders said: “Well, it’s so open-ended and vague, maybe someone would think that it could apply. I don’t know. I think it’s a free-speech activity. In my mind this had nothing to do with my role as a judge.”

It has everything to do, though, with jeopardizing his public appearance as a dignified, temperate representative of Washington state’s courts.

More:

Asked if it was dignified, Sanders said: “I think it was an impulse. … At that particular time, I didn’t have a chance to reflect on it. I didn’t plan it out in advance. It just happened.”

He left before Mukasey’s speech was finished, Sanders said, because “I wasn’t enjoying myself.”

Sanders said he wouldn’t call what he did heckling. Afterward, he said, he heard from a number of people — some supportive, others not. “Some people think it was the wrong thing to do,” he said. “To other people, it was heroic.”

Sanders said he now regrets what he did: “If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t.”

Alternatively, he wishes he had said “Tyranny” instead of “Tyrant,” “because in my mind, these policies can lead to tyranny.”

Needless to say, I’m hugely disappointed. I have few enough heroes in public office as it is. Now, I have one less.

***

Commenter Skeptic: “What he did was rude. His outburst and subsequent storming out of the talk were the actions of a egotistical boor. How would he like someone to act the same in his courtroom? My guess is he wouldn’t. An apology for what he did would be appropriate. He should publicly apologize to Attorney General Mukasey and then ask the voters of the State of Washington to forgive him.”

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