Bush picks Mukasey as attorney general
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Bush picks Mukasey as attorney general
By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer 55 minutes
WASHINGTON - President Bush has settled on Michael B.
Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York, to
replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general and will
announce his selection Monday, a person familiar with
the president's decision said Sunday evening.
Mukasey, who has handled terrorist cases in the U.S.
legal system for more than a decade, would become the
nation's top law enforcement officer if confirmed by
the Senate. Mukasey has the support of some key
Democrats, and it appeared Bush was trying to avoid a
bruising confirmation battle.
The 66-year-old New York native, who is a judicial
adviser to GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani,
would take charge of a Justice Department where morale
is low following months of investigations into the
firings of nine U.S. attorneys and Gonzales' sworn
testimony on the Bush administration's terrorist
Key lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, had
questioned Gonzales' credibility and competency after
he repeatedly testified that he could not recall key
The White House refused to comment Sunday. The person
familiar with Bush's decision refused to be identified
by name because the nomination had not been officially
Bush supporters say Mukasey, who was chief judge of
the high-profile courthouse in Manhattan for six
years, has impeccable credentials, is a strong,
law-and-order jurist, especially on national security
issues, and will restore confidence in the Justice
Bush critics see the Mukasey nomination as evidence of
Bush's weakened political clout as he heads into the
final 15 months of his presidency. It's unclear how
Senate Democrats will view Mukasey's credentials, but
early indications are that he will face less
opposition than a more hardline, partisan candidate
like Ted Olson, who was believed to have been a
Mukasey has received past endorsements from Democratic
Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is from Mukasey's home state.
And in 2005, the liberal Alliance for Justice put
Mukasey on a list of four judges who, if chosen for
the Supreme Court, would show the president's
commitment to nominating people who could be supported
by both Democrats and Republicans.
"While he is certainly conservative, Judge Mukasey
seems to be the kind of nominee who would put rule of
law first and show independence from the White House,
our most important criteria," Schumer said. "For sure
we'd want to ascertain his approach on such important
and sensitive issues as wiretapping and the
appointment of U.S. attorneys, but he's a lot better
than some of the other names mentioned and he has the
potential to become a consensus nominee."
Last week, some Senate Democrats threatened to block
the confirmation of Olson, who represented Bush before
the Supreme Court in the contested 2000 election.
Democratic senators have theorized that Bush might
nominate Mukasey, in part, because he wanted to avoid
a bruising confirmation battle.
The possibility that Bush would pick Mukasey, however,
angered some supporters on the GOP's right flank, who
have given Mukasey less-than-enthusiastic reviews.
Some legal conservatives and Republican activists have
expressed reservations about Mukasey's legal record
and past endorsements from liberals, and were drafting
a strategy to oppose his confirmation even before it
became known that Bush had chosen him.
Mukasey was nominated to the federal bench in 1987 by
President Reagan. He was chief judge of the U.S.
District Court for the Southern District of New York
before he rejoined the New York law firm of Patterson
Belknap Webb & Tyler as a partner in September 2006.
He first joined Patterson Belknap in 1976 after
serving as assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal
division of the Southern District, where he rose to
become chief of its official corruption unit. During
his 18 years as a judge, Mukasey presided over
thousands of cases, including the trial of Sheik Omar
Abdel-Rahman, who was accused of plotting to destroy
New York City landmarks.
In the 1996 sentencing of co-conspirators in the case,
Mukasey accused the sheik of trying to spread death
"in a scale unseen in this country since the Civil
War." He then sentenced the blind sheik to life.
The Mukasey nomination could be Bush's last major
Friday was the last day of Gonzales' 2- 1/2 years at
Justice. Solicitor General Paul Clement will serve as
acting attorney general until the Senate confirms
Gonzales' conflicting public statements about the
firings of the U.S. prosecutors led Democrats and
Republicans alike to question his honesty. Their
charges were compounded by his later sworn testimony
about the terrorist surveillance program, which was
contradicted by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller and
former senior Justice Department officials.
A congressional investigation into the firings
recently shifted its focus onto whether the attorney
general lied to Congress. The Justice Department also
has opened an internal investigation into the matters.
At first, the president backed his embattled attorney
general. At an Aug. 9 news conference, Bush said, "Why
would I hold somebody accountable who has done nothing
A little more than two weeks later, Bush announced
that he had "reluctantly" accepted the resignation of
Gonzales, who followed John Ashcroft's four-year stint
as Bush's first attorney general. Bush said Gonzales,
his loyal colleague from Texas who was his White House
counsel before heading to Justice, had worked
tirelessly to keep the nation safe.
Bush said opposition lawmakers treated Gonzales
unfairly for political reasons. "It's sad that we live
in a time when a talented and honorable person like
Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work
because his good name was dragged through the mud,"