Ex-Judge Is Said to Be Pick At Justice

By Michael Abramowitz and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 17, 2007

President Bush has selected retired federal judge Michael B. Mukasey as his new attorney general, sources said yesterday, moving to install a law-and-order conservative at the Justice Department while hoping to avoid a confirmation fight with Senate Democrats.

The nomination of Mukasey, considered an authority on national security issues, could come as early as this morning, the sources said. The White House was already seeking over the weekend to tamp down concern in the conservative legal world about Mukasey's views, assuring allies that he shares Bush's views on executive power and the need for strong action against terrorists.

In picking Mukasey, Bush would sidestep the uproar that would have erupted in the Senate had he chosen one of the early front-runners, former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson. Some conservatives made clear their puzzlement that Bush was passing over one of their favorites for someone who has been praised by Senate liberals and their allies.

But the White House apparently decided that Mukasey is conservative enough, and that it is important to restore confidence in the Justice Department as quickly as possible, with a choice that could garner bipartisan support. The department has been in turmoil under Alberto R. Gonzales, the Bush confidant whose firing of nine U.S. attorneys and the ensuing controversy led to his resignation last month.

Senate Democrats and their allies signaled yesterday that they were likely to accept Mukasey without a big fight and said they saw the pick as a conciliatory gesture from Bush.

"While he is certainly conservative, Judge Mukasey seems to be the kind of nominee who would put rule of law first and show independence from the White House, our most important criteria," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a frequent critic of the Gonzales Justice Department, said in a statement. "For sure, we'd want to ascertain his approach on such important and sensitive issues as wiretapping and the appointment of U.S. attorneys, but he's a lot better than some of the other names mentioned and he has the potential to become a consensus nominee."

Meanwhile, some conservatives close to the White House seemed prepared to accept the president's judgment about Mukasey, who also has close ties to Republican presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor.

"He has all the objective qualifications to be an excellent attorney general," said Edward Whelan, the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. "He's not well known, so there would be some question marks in the minds of a lot of folks if he's nominated. But my strong sense is that the more people learn about him, the more impressed they will be."

White House press secretary Dana Perino declined to comment yesterday.

Mukasey would be the latest in a string of key Bush appointments that come from outside Texas or the president's inner circle and seem less ideological than some of his previous appointments.

In 1987, he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan as a U.S. District Court judge in the Southern District of New York. He spent the next 19 years in Manhattan's federal court, including the last six years as the chief judge. He retired in 2006 to return to the law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.

As a federal judge, Mukasey was best known for his expertise on national security issues, in part because he presided over the trials of "blind sheik" Omar Abdel Rahman and others in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Mukasey lived under heavy federal security for years because of his connection with that case. He also handled the early case against Jose Padilla, who was declared an "enemy combatant" by Bush in 2002. Mukasey ruled that the government had the power to make the declaration but found that Padilla should have access to his lawyers.

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