Attorney general nominee begins talks in Congress

WASHINGTON — Michael Mukasey, President Bush’s nominee for attorney general, shuttled through the Capitol on Tuesday in a series of meetings with key Senate leaders, hoping to get his confirmation process off to a smooth start.

Mukasey swept through hallways and into elevators in the Capitol and its office buildings, dwarfed by a gaggle of bodyguards, moving from meetings with top Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to sitdowns with GOP leaders.

On Monday, Bush nominated the 66-year old Mukasey, a conservative retired federal judge and Washington outsider who appears to share the president’s views on national security issues. White House advisers hope he will be easily confirmed by the Senate because he has not been involved in partisan political battles.

Mukasey would fire any Justice official who receives a call from a politician and does not report it to higher-ups, one of his chief Senate patrons said Tuesday afternoon.

“Judge Mukasey told me he would implement a rule where if any politician calls the Justice Department regarding a specific case, that call must be referred to one or two specifically designated officials in the department,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “If the person doesn’t refer the call, they’re out of a job. I asked if that applies to U.S. attorneys, and Judge Mukasey said absolutely.”

Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s longtime legal adviser from their Texas days, was battered for eight months by Democrats — and some Republicans — who said he let the White House make political decisions for the traditionally independent law-enforcement agency.

The firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year, which some lawmakers say was politically motivated, was the catalyst that led to Gonzales’ resignation.

Earlier, after a roughly 30-­minute meeting with Mukasey, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that he was beginning the confirmation with “hope and optimism,” but said the session had focused on personal issues rather than the former federal judge’s thoughts on critical issues.

“This was very, very preliminary,” Leahy said.

Leahy declined to say when he would begin the confirmation hearing process, repeating his desire to use the nomination as a “catalyst” to receive more documents from the White House and Justice Department related to controversial anti-­terror programs and the firings of the attorneys.

In a statement issued after his meeting, Leahy said he viewed Mukasey’s nomination as “another chance to clear the decks of some important unfinished business that goes to the heart of accountability in government,” and a “chance for a fresh start in the relationship between Congress and the Justice Department.”

Mukasey, who has not spoken with the media while in the Capitol, also met Tuesday with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the ranking member on Judiciary; Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Specter said he was impressed with Mukasey, calling him a “lawyer’s lawyer.” He said Mukasey’s legal acumen was evident: “Discuss anything legal with him and you get a very profound answer,” he said.

Asked about the documents issue, he said Republicans on the Judiciary committee were “working on it.”

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