By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The Senate majority leader said yesterday that Democrats would block former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson from becoming attorney general, kicking off a spirited nomination debate even before the White House has named a candidate.
"Ted Olson will not be confirmed," Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. "I intend to do everything I can to prevent him from being confirmed as the next attorney general."
The sharp remarks by Reid and other Democrats about Olson in recent days underscore the political challenges the White House faces in finding a replacement for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who will leave office tomorrow after months of confrontations with Congress over the firings of U.S. attorneys and other issues.
White House officials said yesterday that President Bush has not yet chosen a nominee to replace Gonzales. A candidate will not be named until next week at the earliest, officials said. "The president will send up an exceptionally qualified nominee," spokesman Tony Fratto said in a statement. "We hope the Senate will set aside partisan politics long enough to confirm a nominee."
Olson is the latest in an array of potential candidates, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who have drawn early objections from Democrats. The Washington Post reported last week that Olson had emerged as a leading contender, but many Democrats view him as a sharply partisan figure with alleged ties to a conservative magazine's investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s.
He was opposed by most Democrats in 2001 when he was confirmed as solicitor general by a Republican-controlled Senate.
Several other candidates are also under serious consideration for the job, including former deputy attorney general George J. Terwilliger III and Michael B. Mukasey, former chief federal judge in the Southern District of New York, sources familiar with White House deliberations said this week. Another potential nominee with support in Congress and within conservative circles is William W. Wilkins of Greenville, S.C., who is a senior judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond.
Two other widely mentioned potential nominees -- former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson and Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit -- have indicated that they are not interested in the job, officials said this week.
Three of the potential candidates have ties to the GOP presidential campaign of Rudolph W. Giuliani: Olson is chairman of the former New York mayor's justice advisory committee, while Mukasey and Thompson are members of that panel.
In interviews with Judiciary Committee Republicans this week, Olson's name repeatedly emerged at the top of their preferred list of potential nominees. "My belief is that, if they had their choice, they'd take Ted," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a former chairman of the panel who has also been cited by Republicans as a good candidate.
Mukasey is particularly notable because of his potential to draw support from both Republicans and Democrats. A conservative judge who was appointed to the bench during the Reagan administration, Mukasey has received high marks from Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), a key Democrat in the Judiciary Committee who has criticized Olson as a divisive figure.
Mukasey, who returned to private practice in September 2006, presided over numerous high-profile cases as a federal judge, including the trials of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and 11 others in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York. Mukasey also worked as a federal prosecutor under Giuliani in the 1970s. He did not return a call to his office yesterday.
Washingtonpost.com staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.