Talks under way on hearing for attorney general nominee

Despite uncertainty over whether a senator’s concerns will be addressed, there appears to be a growing expectation that the nomination will be considered.

The White House and lawmakers are working together to try to lay the groundwork for a hearing on the nomination of Michael Mukasey to be attorney general.

That is happening despite indications that the nomination might get tangled in a dispute over documents long sought from the White House by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. While it is not certain that Leahy's concerns will be addressed and that he will schedule a hearing, there appears to be a growing expectation that the nomination will be considered -- perhaps expeditiously.

One source with knowledge of the process said he expected a hearing in mid-October. The committee formally received the nomination Friday and sent Mukasey a standard questionnaire for nominees Monday.

Leahy has described his talks with the White House as productive, but has said little else since issuing a statement shortly after the nomination was announced. At the time, Leahy said the provision of "information and documents" previously sought from the White House might abet the nomination process.

"Cooperation from the Administration in making progress on our longstanding oversight requests is still needed and will be helpful in moving forward" with the nomination, Leahy wrote.

While declining to comment on what documents are being discussed, sources noted that it should not necessarily be assumed that White House communications related to the firings of U.S. attorneys last year -- the focus of a months-long standoff between Leahy and the White House -- are central to Leahy's demands.

White House Counsel Fred Fielding met with Leahy on Capitol Hill last week to discuss documents Leahy is seeking, and the two also have spoken by phone, according to one White House official.

"They have had some conversations and may have more," the official said. He emphasized that all discussions with Leahy about documents covering other issues are unrelated to the Mukasey nomination.

The White House continues to work carefully with Mukasey on the questionnaire and is expected to finish it soon, possibly by the end of the week. But, in what appears to be raising some eyebrows, the White House also has yet to forward to the committee the results of Mukasey's FBI background check, according to another source.

The administration is foregoing outside help in prepping and assisting Mukasey. Such assistance was provided for President Bush's Supreme Court nominees. Heading up the effort are Harold Kim from the White House legislative affairs office -- who previously served as a Senate Judiciary Committee aide -- and Bill Burck from the White House Counsel's office.