MUKASEY’S TOLERANCE FOR LAW-BREAKING….When Alberto Gonzales would periodically stop by the Senate Judiciary Committee for oversight hearings, it was extraordinarily painful. The bulk of the poor schmo’s answers, when he wasn’t feigning a faulty memory, were so breathtakingly dishonest, it was almost comical.

Michael Mukasey, in this sense, is a breath of fresh air. His callous disregard for the rule of law comes across as far more competent and direct. After yesterday’s hearing, Dahlia Lithwick had a gem.

…Mukasey is only willing to make and defend his decisions without explaining them. Still, he is very convincing in asserting that even though his decision is secret and its rationale is secret, and all future applications are secret, he is nevertheless confident that it’s the right decision. […]

More and more frequently, we hear members of the Bush administration crying about the evils of “lawfare” — the notion that foreign policy gets decided in courts, and government actors are paralyzed by future legal liability and unable to act boldly to protect us. You’d think the answer would be to clarify for those government actors what the rules are, so they might conform their behavior to protect themselves. But in the new Bush/Mukasey construction, rules tip off the enemy, so it’s better to make them up in secret as you go along.

At one point, Mukasey argues that he “can’t contemplate any situation in which this president would assert Article II authority to do something that the law forbids.” When Arlen Specter points to specific instances in which Bush has done just that — including laws banning torture, FISA, and the National Security Act — Mukasey takes a pass.

Apparently, for the nation’s chief law-enforcement official, what’s done is done.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.