Published September 17, 2007
WASHINGTON – President Bush will nominate former federal district judge Michael Mukasey on Monday to be the next attorney general.
A senior administration official told FOX News that President Bush will make the announcement in a Rose Garden statement.
"Mukasey has a wealth of legal and judicial experience, and has a superb reputation for his fairness, intellect, and dedication to public service. The president is confident that Americans will be proud to have such an accomplished and highly-qualified lawyer, former federal prosecutor and former federal judge with extensive experience in national security cases to serve as America's chief law enforcement officer," the official said Monday, adding that "it is essential that the U.S. Senate moves quickly to consider his nomination."
Early Sunday, FOX News contributor and Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol said the selection was a done deal.
"Mike Mukasey is the leading candidate and almost certainly will be the nominee for the attorney general," said Kristol, a regular panelist on "FOX News Sunday," who first wrote the news in an online version of his magazine late Saturday.
"I think the president will make the nomination tomorrow. Mukasey is a retired almost-20-year federal district judge in New York, extremely well-respected. I think he'll be easily confirmed," Kristol said.
Mukasey, 66, was nominated as a federal district judge for the Southern District of New York in 1988 by Ronald Reagan and served until his retirement in September 2006, becoming the top judge in the Manhattan federal court.
He presided over the 1995 New York City terror trial of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and 11 co-defendants, who were convicted and received lengthy jail terms for their roles in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
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.
More recently, he appointed a lawyer to Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was arrested in 2002 on a supposed mission to detonate a "dirty bomb."
Before the hearing on whether there was sufficient cause to detain Padilla, Bush declared him an enemy combatant. That began a years-long legal ordeal that ended with Padilla back in a different federal court, where he was convicted last month of murder conspiracy.
Since entering private life, Mukasey has become an adviser to Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. He also returned to a partnership at the New York law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler in September 2006.
"I would say he's a sort of hard — a tough-minded conservative judge who will be a strong attorney general, not a movement conservative. I don't think he'll get into social issues, that sort of thing. Those Bush policies are already in place," Kristol said.
"I think the best thing about him, from a conservative point of view, is he will be an extremely effective witness before Congress when FISA, the eavesdropping program, comes up for reauthorization, as it will in a few months. On all War on Terror issues, he will be to War on Terror issues what (Gen. David) Petraeus is, I think, to military issues, an independent, well-respected person who's pretty much in agreement with the president's policies," he continued.
Asked about the nomination, Sen. Joe Biden, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he doesn't know anything about the judge, but he will have to pass a Democratic test before being confirmed.
"As long as he can prove — not prove, assert, and I believe that he understands he's not just the president's lawyer but the country's lawyer, I could support him. But I don't know enough about him, so he has to pass that test for me, go through that filter. Is he going to be the president's guy? Is he going to — or is he going to stand up and defend the Constitution and be the people's lawyer as well? And I just don't know the answer to that," Biden said on "FOX News Sunday."
Mukasey already has earned support from liberal Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who repeated his confidence in the judge late Sunday.
"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. For sure we'd want to ascertain his approach on such important and sensitive issues as wiretapping and the appointment of U.S. attorneys, but he's a lot better than some of the other names mentioned and he has the potential to become a consensus nominee," Schumer said.
Schumer's support could turn off some conservatives, but Kristol said Republican senators will come out in force for him.
"I think every Republican will vote to confirm him. It's unfortunate that Chuck Schumer respects him, but you can't do that much about some people saying nice things about you. He is widely respected on both sides of the aisle," said Kristol, whose article noted that Schumer and the liberal "Alliance for Justice" supported Mukasey only after it became clear that Mukasey was not going to be on the short list of possible Supreme Court nominees.
Kristol and others had noted that many conservatives support former Solicitor General Ted Olson, a tried and true GOP ally, as the next attorney general, but it may be better to avoid a fight in the last 15 months of the administration when an equally good candidate can be picked without an argument.
"Olson is so politicized and seen as a favorite of the right that you had people saying he couldn't possibly get confirmed, Sen. Reid, the Senate majority leader, saying he was going to block it," said National Public Radio national correspondent Juan Williams, also a regular panelist on "FOX News Sunday."
"On a series of conference calls Sunday, conservative groups decided not to oppose Mukasey's nomination, despite some skepticism due to the liberal groups support for him. That opposition went nowhere as the groups were assured Mukasey would play no role, or a very limited one, in filling any Supreme Court vacancy. Conservative groups also decided Bush had no political capital left to fight for anyone but a Democratic-approved nominee. As a result, Mukasey is off to a good start and won't have to endure the same criticism that accompanied the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, Bush's former White House counsel.
Besides Mukasey and Olson, others who were being eyed for the post included former Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger; 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William Wilkins; and former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who is general counsel at PepsiCo.
Mukasey was being vetted to replace Alberto Gonzales, whose last day as attorney general was Friday. Gonzales quit after 2-1/2 years at the Justice Department amid investigations into whether he broke the law and lied to Congress. He has denied any wrongdoing. Solicitor General Paul Clement is serving as acting attorney general until the Senate confirms Gonzales' successor.
On Friday, his last day at the department, Gonzales was feted at a standing-room-only Justice Department farewell ceremony. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former White House chief of staff Andy Card and Olson were in the audience.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel and Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.