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“It is obvious to the point of tautology to say elections are inherently political events, but with that comes a not-always-obvious danger that we ourselves can be drawn into partisan territory,” he said. “Yet we managed to navigate these perils successfully by doing what we do best: by disregarding the political pressures and inevitable criticisms, and by going only where, and so far as, the facts and law led us.”

While Mr. Mukasey worked to rise above political scrums, his tenure was not completely free of contention.

Several liberal senators threatened to hold up his nomination because he would not say categorically that an interrogation technique known as waterboarding was illegal. Waterboarding, which simulates drowning, has become symbolic of what critics of the Bush administration see as excesses regarding the treatment of suspect terrorists.

“The attorney general supported the president’s overreaching executive power by failing to recognize that waterboarding was torture,” said Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice.

Ms. Aron did, however, credit Mr. Mukasey for his efforts to end the politicization of the department. Accusations of politicization related to the firings of several U.S. attorneys led Mr. Gonzales to resign in 2007.

Mr. Mukasey’s likely successor Eric Holder, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for attorney general, faces confirmation hearings next week.