(AFP) – Sep 17, 2007
WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President George W. Bush on Monday nominated as his new attorney general retired judge Michael Mukasey, who would inherit a US Justice Department beset by a series of scandals and low morale.
"It's a pivotal time for our nation and it's vital that the position of attorney general be filled quickly. I urge the Senate to confirm Judge Mukasey promptly," Bush said with Mukasey at his side in the White House Rose Garden.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president hoped the US Senate, controlled by Bush's Democratic foes, would confirm Mukasey to replace the scandal-stained Alberto Gonzales before going into recess on October 8.
The US president, sorely weakened by the unpopular Iraq war, appeared to be skirting a possible showdown with the Democrats after Gonzales, a close Bush confidant, left the post under a cloud.
Gonzales announced his departure in late August, as Democratic and Republican critics alike charged that he lacked independence from the White House, was incompetent, hid the truth and may be guilty of perjury.
A former top aide to Gonzales revealed earlier this year that she improperly used political criteria in hiring decisions, and Democrats have been probing whether a mass purge of federal prosecutors was tied to political, not judicial, considerations.
The nomination could have far-reaching implications for several pitched battles over Bush administration anti-terrorism policies, like warrantless spying on US citizens.
Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said Mukasey had "strong professional credentials a reputation for independence" and suggested the former judge "knows how to say no to the president when he oversteps the Constitution."
"But there should be no rush to judgment. The Senate Judiciary Committee must carefully examine Judge Mukasey's views on the complex legal challenges facing the nation," Reid said in a statement.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee that will take up the nomination before it goes to a vote, promised to review Mukasey's qualifications "a serious and deliberate fashion."
But in a potential hurdle to Mukasey, Leahy also warned that he would take into account White House "cooperation" on existing requests for information on issues like the mass firings and the warrantless surveillance program.
Mukasey said the department faced "vastly different" challenges from when he served there 35 years ago, but vowed "to pursue justice by enforcing the law with unswerving fidelity to the Constitution."
Mukasey, 66, was appointed a federal district judge in New York under Republican former president Ronald Reagan and retired in 2006, returning to private practice.
He presided over several high-profile terrorism cases, including the trial of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called "blind sheikh" who was convicted as the master of a 1993 attack on New York's World Trade Center towers.
Mukasey generally has been supportive of Bush administration policies in the war on terror, although he has at times ruled against the president.
He served as a district judge in the case of Jose Padilla, the US citizen accused by the Bush administration of being an enemy combatant who conspired to kill Americans.
Mukasey upheld the Bush administration's right to detain Padilla indefinitely without charges -- a decision later reversed -- but ruled that he was entitled to a lawyer -- a position the administration argued against.
Mukasey and his son have advised the 2008 presidential campaign Republican Rudolph Giuliani, whom the judge swore in as New York City mayor in 1994 and 1998. The White House said it expected him to sever those ties.
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