Bush Ushers in Mukasey, Defends Gonzales

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2007; 2:08 PM

President Bush ushered new Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey into office today while issuing a ringing defense of Mukasey's predecessor, Alberto R. Gonzales, who resigned under a cloud of scandal and pending investigations.

Bush, during an oath-taking ceremony at the Justice Department, said Mukasey will bring "clear purpose and resolve" to running the nation's premier law enforcement agency.

"As he embarks on his new responsibilities, Michael Mukasey has my complete trust and confidence," Bush told an overflow crowd in the Justice Department's Great Hall. "And he's going to have the trust and confidence of the men and women of the Department of Justice."

Bush also made a point of defending his longtime friend and aide, Gonzales, who stepped down in September amid allegations that he had misled Congress and improperly sought to influence the testimony of a witness in connection with the controversial firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

Calling Gonzales a man of "integrity" and "decency," Bush said that "Al Gonzales worked tirelessly to make this country safer. . . . I'm grateful for his friendship."

The remarks prompted loud applause from the crowd, which consisted mostly of Justice employees but included a scattering of prominent Republican lawmakers and Cabinet appointees. Gonzales was not in attendance, although two other former attorneys general -- John D. Ashcroft and Richard Thornburgh -- were on hand for the ceremony.

Mukasey -- who was sworn into office Friday -- said that he did not feel like he was really attorney general until this morning's public oath, which was administered by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Mukasey, a former New York federal judge, told Justice employees he would "use all of the strength of mind and body that I have to help you to continue to protect the freedom and the security of the people of this country" and would "take the counsel not only of my own insights but also of yours."

"It's great to be back," Mukasey said with a smile at the close of his remarks. It was a reference to his work in the 1970s as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.

Despite the warm welcome, Mukasey, 66, takes the helm of a dispirited department rocked by the controversy under Gonzales and nearly emptied of appointees in its upper ranks. Bush said he would announce a slate of new nominees to fill senior Justice posts tomorrow and urged Democrats in the Senate to approve them.

The Republican lawmakers attending the ceremony included Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democratic lawmakers who opposed Mukasey were notably absent.

Senate approval of Mukasey, which had initially seemed assured, was imperiled by his refusal to say whether an aggressive interrogation technique called waterboarding amounts to torture. He was confirmed Thursday by a 53 to 40 vote, the lowest level of Senate support for any attorney general since the 1950s.

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