Bush May Fight for New Attorney General

By Dan Eggen and Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A half-dozen or so lawyers are being discussed among administration officials as possible candidates to replace Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, but no clear favorite has emerged, and President Bush is willing to fight for the right candidate, administration officials and Republican advisers said yesterday.

Democratic Senate leaders have called on the White House to consult them closely during the selection process, but administration officials warned yesterday that the president intends to nominate an attorney general who agrees with his policies. "It is the president's prerogative to appoint someone who shares his views," a senior administration official said.

Among those who are said to be under serious consideration are Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, whom Bush picked to serve as acting attorney general after Gonzales's Sept. 17 departure; George J. Terwilliger III, a former deputy attorney general; former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson; Michael B. Mukasey, former chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; and Laurence H. Silberman, a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Several influential Democrats urged the White House to pick a consensus candidate to replace Gonzales, who announced on Monday his decision to resign after seven months of bitter confrontation with Congress. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a prominent member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who was the first lawmaker to call for Gonzales's resignation early this year, said he was heartened by a courtesy call on Monday from White House counsel Fred F. Fielding. Schumer said he shared a list of potential candidates with the White House.

"We understand that we're not going to have the same ideological views as they do," Schumer said, referring to whomever is nominated by Bush. "But there are lots of people who would meet the requirements we have, which is to adhere to the rule of law above politics. . . . I think the majority of Democrats are interested in looking forward and solving things."

Fielding and White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten are leading the effort to draft and cull a list of potential nominees. Officials familiar with the process said that the White House has begun reaching out to potential candidates to gauge their interest in the job.

"They're less concerned about confirmability and more concerned about the candidate's ability to steer affairs in away that is consistent with good problem-solving down the road," said a lawyer familiar with the selection process. "That means some combination of being a straight arrow and having a forceful presence, along with the diplomatic skills necessary to deal with the Hill."

William B. Mateja, a former senior counsel at the Justice Department, said that "they're going to try to find someone who has gravitas and who can instill in the troops at the Justice Department the idea that the person in charge knows what they're doing."

With the president scheduled to return tonight from an extended stay outside of Washington, White House officials said it is unclear whether a new attorney general will be nominated before Bush departs for Australia on Monday.

Gonzales, 52, announced his resignation two days ago. Most of his senior aides have fled the Justice Department, while internal investigators are examining whether he lied to lawmakers or improperly attempted to influence witnesses.

Democrats have sent muddled signals about their plans. Schumer joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in advocating a conciliatory tone with the White House, but much of the Democratic leadership has taken a harder line. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that a successful nominee to be attorney general must "pledge to cooperate with ongoing congressional oversight into the conduct of the White House in the politicization of federal law enforcement."

Staff writers Robert Barnes and John Solomon contributed to this report.

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