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Panel to set hearing date for attorney general nominee

Letter suggests Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has abandoned efforts to obtain information from the White House before allowing a hearing.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on Wednesday indicated he will schedule a hearing for attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey, despite continuing resistance from the White House to Leahy's demands for information about other matters the panel is investigating.

"I look forward to scheduling and chairing the confirmation hearing on your nomination to serve as the Attorney General of the United States," Leahy wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Mukasey. No date has been set, but a hearing cannot occur before an Oct. 16 meeting Leahy requested with Mukasey, according to a committee aide.

The letter suggests Leahy has abandoned efforts to obtain information from the White House before allowing a hearing and that he wants assurances instead from Mukasey on several matters related to the panel's probe into the firing last year of eight U.S. attorneys.

"I had hoped that the White House would have taken advantage of the time since the resignations of Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Rove to work with us to fulfill longstanding requests for information so that we could all agree about what went so wrong at the Department of Justice and work together to restore it," Leahy wrote, referring to former Attorney General Gonzales and White House adviser Karl Rove. "Instead, they have left you to answer the unanswered questions and left longstanding disputes unresolved."

During what will be his second session with Mukasey, Leahy wrote that he will seek assurances from him that he will safeguard the department from political pressure, prevent its interference in elections, take steps to restore morale and "uphold constitutional checks on executive power."

Leahy asked Mukasey if he would resist potential White House pressure not to bring to a grand jury contempt charges passed by the House or Senate. Leahy asked for his views on executive privilege, which has been asserted by the White House in the U.S. attorneys probe. Leahy also asked Mukasey to recuse himself from matters involving former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a close associate of Mukasey, and to not "improperly use your position" should Giuliani become the GOP presidential nominee.

Leahy also wants to know whom Mukasey intends to appoint to senior positions "to help turn the department around."

The White House on Wednesday sought to raise the pressure on Leahy to move forward, demanding a hearing as soon as possible. "Members of the committee have been outspoken about the vacancies at DOJ, and they have an opportunity to do something about it by confirming him swiftly," said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.

Perino said the committee has received "all of judge Mukasey's documents in preparation for a confirmation hearing" and that he has met or spoken with every member of the panel. But the panel only Tuesday received Mukasey's responses to a questionnaire sent to Mukasey just after his nomination, and Leahy and his staff must review the answers, a committee aide said.

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