Bush chooses retired federal judge for attorney general

WASHINGTON — President Bush has settled on Michael B. Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York, to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general and will announce his selection today, a person familiar with the president’s decision said Sunday evening.

Mukasey, who has handled terrorist cases in the U.S. legal system for more than a decade, would become the nation’s top law enforcement officer if confirmed by the Senate. Mukasey has the support of some key Democrats, and it appeared Bush was trying to avoid a bruising confirmation battle.

The 66-year-old New York native, who is a judicial adviser to GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani, would take charge of a Justice Department where morale is low following months of investigations into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and Gonzales’ sworn testimony on the Bush administration’s terrorist surveillance program.

It’s unclear how Senate Democrats will view Mukasey’s credentials, but early indications are that he will face less opposition than a more hardline, partisan candidate.

Mukasey has received past endorsements from Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is from Mukasey’s home state.

And in 2005, the liberal Alliance for Justice put Mukasey on a list of four judges who, if chosen for the Supreme Court, would show the president’s commitment to nominating people who could be supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

“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,” Schumer said, who added that Mukasey “has the potential to become a consensus nominee.”

The possibility that Bush would pick Mukasey, however, angered some supporters on the GOP’s right flank, who have given Mukasey less-than-enthusiastic reviews. Some legal conservatives and Republican activists have expressed reservations about Mukasey’s legal record and past endorsements from liberals, and were drafting a strategy to oppose his confirmation even before it became known that Bush had chosen him.

During his 18 years as a judge, Mukasey presided over thousands of cases, including the trial of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was accused of plotting to destroy New York City landmarks.

In the 1996 sentencing of co-conspirators in the case, Mukasey accused the sheik of trying to spread death “in a scale unseen in this country since the Civil War.” He then sentenced the blind sheik to life.

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