WASHINGTON – The Senate on Monday confirmed a federal judge from Chicago as Attorney General Michael Mukasey's second-in-command, restoring the top tier of a Justice Department that had lost many of its officials to a scandal over the firings of nine federal prosecutors.
The unanimous vote installed Mark R. Filip after a season of partisan wrangling over President Bush's nominees.
A conversation earlier in the day between White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., led to Filip's confirmation, according to a Senate Democratic aide. The two pledged to make progress on stalled nominations, said the official, who requested anonymity because the details were private.
"We're extremely pleased that Judge Filip was confirmed today," said White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore, saying the two sides reached an understanding to work on a procedural change that might clear the way for stalled nominations.
"We look forward to working constructively with the Senate majority leader to ensure that all Republican and Democratic nominees receive fair consideration and swift confirmation," she said.
The deputy attorney general serves as the department's chief operating officer. In recent years, the deputy also has acted as the top liaison between Justice headquarters in Washington and the 93 U.S. attorney's offices around the country.
The scandal over the firings cost Mukasey's predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, his job last year. Filip's predecessor, Paul McNulty, also left amid the controversy.
Filip's nomination to replace McNulty had been a peace offering of sorts from the White House to top Senate Democrats. Reid's No. 2, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, had voted against Mukasey's confirmation when the nominee refused to equate a harsh interrogation technique — waterboarding — with torture.
Mukasey narrowly won confirmation nonetheless and got quickly to work building support on Capitol Hill. One of his calls went to Durbin to let him know that the federal judge from Chicago would be tapped to be deputy attorney general. Durbin said at the time that the choice pleased him.
The senator later briefly placed a hold on Filip's nomination over the waterboarding issue, but he later lifted it.