- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush this morning announced the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey, a former federal judge who has presided over high-profile terrorism cases, for attorney general.

“The attorney general has an especially vital role to play in a time of war … and we face a challenge of protecting our people on a daily basis from deadly enemies while at the same time protecting our freedom,” Mr. Bush said, speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden.

“Judge Mukasey brings impressive credentials to this task,” Mr. Bush said. “He knows what it takes to fight this war effectively, and he knows how to do it in a way that is consistent with our laws and with our Constitution.”

Mr. Mukasey, who served 18 years as a federal judge in New York until retiring to private practice in 2006, said the attorney general”s job was “vastly different” from in the past because of terrorism threats.

“But the principles that guide the Justice Department remain the same — to pursue justice, by enforcing the law with unswerving fidelity to the Constitution,” Mr. Mukasey said.

During his time on the Southern District Court of New York, Mr. Mukasey sentenced to life in prison the men who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.

He also presided over the trial of convicted terrorist Jose Padilla, ruling that the U.S. citizen could be held as an enemy combatant but going against the Bush administration by ruling that Padilla had a right to legal counsel.

Mr. Mukasey emerged as a surprise choice this weekend. Until Saturday, his name had not been mentioned in news reports since Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced his resignation on Aug. 27.

Theodore B. Olson, who served as solicitor general under Mr. Bush from 2001 to 2004, was rumored to be the top candidate.

However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said on Wednesday that Mr. Olson was too partisan and that Democrats would oppose his nomination.

This morning, Mr. Reid issued a positive statement about Mr. Mukasey, saying that he was glad President Bush listened to Congress and put aside his plan to replace Alberto Gonzales with another partisan administration insider.

“Judge Mukasey has strong professional credentials and a reputation for independence,” Mr. Reid said, though he did not give an unqualified endorsement of Mr. Mukasey and said there should be “no rush to judgment.”

However, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, who will preside over Mr. Mukasey”s confirmation hearing, was much less enthusiastic.

The Vermont Democrat indicated he might push for more information from the White House on the congressional probe into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year before scheduling a hearing.

“Our focus now will be on securing the relevant information we need so we can proceed to schedule fair and thorough hearings. Cooperation from the White House will be essential in determining that schedule,” Mr. Leahy said.

Despite the fact that Mr. Mukasey’s name had not been mentioned before this past weekend, the White House said Mr. Mukasey had been a candidate for weeks.

Mr. Mukasey met with White House staff on Aug. 29, a senior administration official said, and he met with Mr. Bush on Sept. 1, the day before the president left for his surprise trip to Iraq.

Mr. Bush made his decision late last week and called Mr. Mukasey on Friday to offer him the job, said White House press secretary Dana Perino.

Over the weekend, White House staff did final vetting and outreach efforts to ensure no last-minute snags.

Yesterday, Mr. Mukasey met with six influential conservatives to reassure them of his credentials.

A senior White House official said the meetings were all one-on-one except for one meeting with two conservatives.

“[It was] to ensure that if there were questions since he was not as well known in conservative circles in Washington, that there be an opportunity for them to ask any questions they wanted to,” said the White House official.

“It was my impression that the judge handled himself very well and there was a satisfaction level in each case,” the official said.

The meetings represented an attempt by the White House to avoid blowback from their base similar to the reaction after Mr. Bush nominated former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The conservative legal community adores Ted Olson. There’s bound to be a little bit of letdown, but I think people understand,” said Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, which promotes conservative judges.

“I don’t see any reason not to be supportive,” Mr. Levey said.

Mrs. Perino said Peter D. Keisler, assistant attorney general for the civil division, will be acting attorney general until Mr. Mukasey is confirmed.

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