Bush nominates ex-judge to become attorney general

President Bush on Monday nominated retired federal judge Michael Mukasey to serve as the nation's next attorney general. The decision ended speculation about who would be tapped to succeed Alberto Gonzales, whose embattled tenure concluded Monday.

Many stakeholders on and off of Capitol Hill were scrambling to review Mukasey's record and could not offer comment by deadline. The White House, however, released a lengthy fact sheet about his position on various issues.

The document referenced a 2004 column where Mukasey lauded the anti-terrorism law known as the USA PATRIOT Act and urged opponents to avoid "recreational" criticisms. The 2001 statute was renewed on Gonzales' watch.

Mukasey, an 18-year veteran of a U.S. district court in New York, presided over the 1995 trial of a gang accused of plotting terrorist attacks in Manhattan. He also issued the first ruling on a challenge by Jose Padilla to his detention as an "enemy combatant."

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said Mukasey has a conservative reputation on national security matters, and tended to side with the government when its lawyers asked for sealed records and ex parte communications and asserted claims of presidential power. But he might be less inclined "to adopt the extreme, 'no judicial review' approach" that the Bush administration has taken with respect to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Turley said.

Center for Democracy and Technology President Leslie Harris said Mukasey should be asked whether he promises to provide detailed accounts of surveillance conducted without warrants and whether he can assure lawmakers that he will not sidestep FISA.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was happy that Bush chose not to "replace Alberto Gonzales with another partisan administration insider." The name of former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson had been floated to Democrats' chagrin.

Mukasey has strong credentials and a reputation for independence, Reid said. "A man who spent 18 years on the federal bench surely understands the importance of checks and balances and knows how to say no to the president when he oversteps the Constitution."

In a statement, Reid also cautioned against a rush to judgment, noting that the Senate Judiciary Committee must carefully examine Mukasey's views on an array of legal challenges. Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who chairs the panel, did not make a statement by deadline.

Ranking Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said at a briefing that the nominee "comes with some recommendations from a wide variety of groups."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., did not issue a statement by press time but ranking Republican Lamar Smith of Texas called Mukasey "an ideal candidate." He brings "a wealth of knowledge," particularly with respect to national security law, Smith said, urging senators to swiftly confirm him.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said one of Mukasey's first tasks would be repairing the relationship between the Justice Department and Congress, and one way to do that "is by turning over the documents we have long sought relating to the NSA surveillance program."

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