With Justice Pick, Bush Hopes to Avoid a Fight

By Michael Abramowitz and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

President Bush opted to try to avoid a confirmation fight by nominating Michael B. Mukasey to be attorney general, concluding that the retired federal judge shares his approach to national security issues, but without the appearance of partisanship, administration officials and others close to the White House said yesterday.

Bush gave serious consideration to former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, but the president's top advisers thought Olson would face too many obstacles in the Senate, according to those familiar with Mukasey's selection. White House officials denied that Bush was cowed by Senate Democrats opposed to Olson, a respected lawyer and active participant in a number of past conservative battles, but acknowledged that "confirmability" was a factor that the president considered.

"What you want is somebody who is superbly qualified and quickly confirmable -- Mukasey hit both of those elements," said a senior White House official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a policy that only the president should comment publicly on the nomination.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) signaled that Mukasey's confirmation is not likely to be a problem. Twenty minutes after Bush announced the nomination, Reid issued a statement praising Mukasey for his "strong professional credentials and a reputation for independence."

But other senior Democrats said they will seek to link Mukasey's confirmation with investigations they have launched into his predecessor, Alberto R. Gonzales. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, suggested that to ensure a speedy process, the White House should give the panel access to long-sought witnesses and documents related to some of the controversies that engulfed the Justice Department during Gonzales's tenure, including the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and warrantless wiretapping.

"Our focus now will be on securing the relevant information we need so we can proceed to schedule fair and thorough hearings," Leahy said. "Cooperation from the White House will be essential in determining that schedule."

White House officials said they will not give in to such pressure, and they pressed the Senate to approve Mukasey by Oct. 8. "No" was the answer one senior adviser gave when asked whether the White House is willing to tie the nomination to the production of such documents.

Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, warned Democrats against such a strategy. "In making this selection, I think President Bush has made a very . . . deliberate effort to choose someone who would not be controversial," he said. "It is my hope that we will not get bogged down in preconditions on his nomination."

Besides the prosecutor firings and allegations that Gonzales lied to Congress and attempted to improperly influence the testimony of a witness, the Justice Department has been rocked by the departure of almost every senior official. The department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility are conducting a wide-ranging internal probe.

In sharp contrast to Bush's close relationship with Gonzales, a friend and aide from his days as Texas governor, the president had not met Mukasey until he interviewed him Sept. 1. He formally presented Mukasey, 66, as his nominee in the Rose Garden yesterday after offering him the job on Friday.

Mukasey, a lawyer in private practice who served for 19 years on the federal bench in New York, spent part of the weekend meeting with leading figures in the conservative legal world, seeking to allay their concerns about his philosophy and suitability for running a Justice Department that has been in turmoil under Gonzales.

In explaining the selection, Bush and his senior advisers emphasized Mukasey's long experience in national security issues, including handling such high-profile terrorism cases as the trial of Omar Abdel Rahman, the "blind sheik," and others involved in plotting to blow up New York City landmarks. One top presidential adviser said the focus of the last 16 months of the administration will be ensuring that Bush and his successor have the necessary tools to fight terrorists.

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