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AG nominee’s protection cost U.S. $28 million

Protecting former federal judge Michael Mukasey cost taxpayers an estimated $28 million over more than seven years _ or $10,000 a day _ even as Justice Department agencies argued about how much of a threat he faced.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Protecting former federal judge Michael Mukasey cost taxpayers an estimated $28 million over more than seven years — or $10,000 a day — even as Justice Department agencies argued about how much of a threat he faced.

Now nominated to become the nation's 81st attorney general, Mukasey was given U.S. Marshals bodyguards while presiding over a high-profile terror trial in the early 1990s, when he served as a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan. He kept the protections, code-named "Eagle Detail," until 2005 — nine years after the trial ended.

The detail was withdrawn shortly after deputy marshals protecting Mukasey and U.S. District Judge Kevin T. Duffy filed a grievance accusing the two jurists and their wives of assigning them valet-like chores.

The U.S. Marshals Service said most of the money paid the salaries and benefits for Mukasey's bodyguards — and would have been spent whether they were assigned to protect the judge or someone else. The marshals protect about 200 judges and other court officers annually.

Still, costs to protect at least one other judge in the same Manhattan courthouse fell far below the price to protect Mukasey, according to financial records obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The U.S. Marshals Service records indicate the cost of Eagle Detail totaled $27.8 million between 1998 until it ended in mid-2005. Budget officials with the Marshals Service did not dispute that total, which averaged $3.7 million a year.

Nominee presided over 'blind sheik' case
Mukasey initially was given the security detail in 1993, when he was assigned to preside over the trial of "blind sheik" Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was accused of plotting to blow up the United Nations and other New York City landmarks. Mukasey sentenced Rahman to life in prison in 1996. He also presided over the initial court hearings, in 2002, for alleged dirty bomber Jose Padilla.

The financial records did not include costs before 1998 because the Marshals Service is not required to keep documents longer than seven years, an agency budget official said.

Deputy marshals based in New York protected Mukasey for the last two years of his detail. Before that, the documents show, deputies from offices around the country were temporarily assigned to Manhattan — a "diversion" that Marshals spokesman David Turner said is not unusual.

"We're diverted to protect judges that we believe face a serious threat," Turner said. He called the personnel costs of Eagle Detail "money that we would have been spending anyway," and added: "Our principal mission is protecting judges."

Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on the costs.

Steep pay cut
On Friday, the White House released Mukasey's financial disclosure report, showing he earned nearly $2 million over 21 months at a law firm in New York where he was a partner after retiring from the bench in 2006. If the Senate confirms him as attorney general, Mukasey would earn $186,600 a year at the Justice Department.

The White House form also indicates Mukasey's clients at the law firm included Sotheby's, the Yale-New Haven Hospital board of directors and Linda Lay, the widow of former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay. White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said Mukasey mediated a dispute between Mrs. Lay and her husband's estate.

What threats Mukasey and his family faced when he was a judge have never been made fully clear.

Mukasey given death threats
In 2004 — a year before Eagle Detail ended — the Justice Department's inspector general reported that "two trial judges are under express death threats from terrorist groups," referring to Duffy and Mukasey. At the time, both jurists had protection for far longer than any other federal judge around the country.

In response to the report, the Marshals Service acknowledged that the two judges faced increased risk because of their participation in terror trials, but forcefully disputed that their lives specifically had been threatened. The agency "has no information that any judge is under such a threat," the Marshals Service wrote.

U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand, who worked in the same federal courthouse in Manhattan and presided over a major terror trial also was given a security detail, the Marshals Service records show. But the costs to protect Sand amounted to far less than was spent for Mukasey.

In 2000 and 2001, Sand oversaw a trial of major al-Qaida figures accused of the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, including the personal secretary to Osama bin Laden. While the government spent millions on security for the trial, it spent almost nothing protecting the judge himself, according to the Marshals Service documents.

In the first half of 2001, for example, Mukasey's security measures cost $2.5 million. Security of the trial in Sand's court cost $4.2 million, and the personal security designated for Sand cost $86, the documents show.

The year before, Mukasey's detail cost $3.7 million and security for the bombing trial he oversaw ran $3.9 million. Protection for Judge Sand, meanwhile, cost $1,985.

Other expenses for Mukasey
Also outlined in the Eagle Detail records were several pages of incidental expenses racked up over 7 1/2 years.

A December 2004 invoice for Mukasey's detail lists $58.30 worth of Lysol, $101.38 worth of toilet paper, and $119.10 worth of hand soap. A year earlier, the detail proposed buying $1,429.95 worth of mountain bikes and equipment to keep up with Mukasey when he jogged.

Mukasey also charged the government rent for letting the deputies live at his second home in New York's Hamptons, the records show. The marshals signed a lease with Mukasey in 2002 agreeing to pay $1,667 a month for eight months.

In March 2005, the Marshals Service sent Mukasey a letter notifying him they had miscalculated the tax consequences of those rental payments for 2004, the records show. It's unclear from the records if Mukasey also owed or paid taxes from previous years' rental income.

"Payments made to you had been erroneously classified," said the March 21, 2005, letter. "We should have reported $19,992.00 of income for you to the Internal Revenue Service.... We regret any inconvenience that this error may cause you."