- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

President Bush yesterday announced the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey, a former federal judge who has presided over high-profile terrorism cases, for attorney general.

Mr. Mukasey emerged over the weekend as a surprise choice after Democrats raised objections last week to former Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, who was considered the leading candidate until Democratic leaders publicly opposed him.

The White House choice appeared able — judging from early reactions — to thread the needle between possible objections from the Democrat-controlled Congress and the president’s conservative base.

Mr. Bush praised Mr. Mukasey as a skilled legal mind committed to fighting terrorism.

“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,” said Mr. Bush, speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden. “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 last year, is nominated to replace outgoing Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

Mr. Gonzales’ last day was yesterday and White House press secretary Dana Perino said that Peter D. Keisler, assistant attorney general for the civil division, will be acting attorney general until Mr. Mukasey is confirmed.

The White House said they were confident that the Senate would confirm Mr. Mukasey within three weeks.

Mr. Mukasey, in brief remarks, said the attorney general’s job was “vastly different” than 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,” he said.

Mr. Mukasey, during his time as a judge in the Southern District Court of New York, sentenced Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman — the “blind sheik” — to life in prison for masterminding the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

He also presided over the trial of convicted terrorist Jose Padilla, ruling in 2002 for the president 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. Gonzales announced his resignation on Aug. 27. Mr. Olson, the White House’s lawyer before the Supreme Court from 2001 to 2004, was seen as the top candidate.

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

Yesterday, 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.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee, said the nomination signaled a “change in attitude” from the White House.

“Instead of just throwing down the gauntlet, they are meeting us halfway,” said Mr. Schumer, who in 2003 submitted Mr. Mukasey’s name to the White House as a possible Supreme Court nominee.

Democratic praise, however, was not unequivocal.

Mr. Reid said there must be “no rush to judgment,” and Mr. Schumer said that although “we are open-minded and we are hopeful … there is a lot that has to happen.”

And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who will preside over Mr. Mukasey’s confirmation hearing, 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.

Mr. Bush made his decision late last week and called Mr. Mukasey on Friday to offer him the job, Mrs. Perino said.

On Sunday, Mr. Mukasey met with six influential conservatives, whom the White House declined to name, to reassure them of his credentials, “since he was not as well-known in conservative circles in Washington,” said a senior White House official

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 E. Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The conservative legal community adores Ted Olson. There’s bound to be a little bit of let down, 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.”

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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