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AG Mukasey Collapses During Speech

Attorney General Michael Mukasey was hospitalized but conscious and alert early Friday after collapsing during a late-night speech to a conservative legal group.

It was not clear when the nation's 67-year-old chief law enforcer would be released from George Washington University Hospital, where he was admitted overnight for observation after briefly losing consciousness at the black-tie dinner. Doctors could not say what caused his collapse, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.

Justice Department spokesman Gina Talamona would not comment when asked if Mukasey suffered a stroke. She had no information about his medical history.

Mukasey opened his speech on terrorism with a wry remark about expecting the mood at the conservative Federalist Society dinner to be "somber or sober." He slumped over the podium about 15 minutes later after slurring his words and could be seen swaying and shaking slightly. Three or four men in suits rushed on stage and caught him at the lectern.

"Oh, no, no!" people in the audience cried out as Mukasey fell. "Oh, my God!"

The White House said President George W. Bush has called stricken Attorney General Michael Mukasey to see how he was feeling.

White House press secretary Dana Perino sent word to reporters Friday morning that Mr. Bush telephoned Mukasey just before 7 a.m. EST. She said Bush reported that the attorney general "sounded well and is getting excellent care."

Mukasey, a retired federal judge, is Mr. Bush's third attorney general. The flinty but measured New Yorker has said the job initially discouraged him, and he has scaled back his public appearances in recent weeks.

A former prosecutor who saw Mukasey hours earlier described the attorney general as tired-looking and drawn.

Justice spokesman Peter Carr said Mukasey did not transfer his power to Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip.

"The attorney general is conscious, conversant and alert," Carr said after Mukasey was hospitalized. "His vital statistics are strong and he is in good spirits."

Talamona said Mukasey's wife, Susan, was with him at the hospital.

After collapsing, Mukasey lay on the stage for about 10 minutes being attended to by his FBI security detail and medical personnel at the dinner, said eyewitness Abigail Thernstrom, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Though he lost consciousness initially, Mukasey appeared to be awake when he was taken from the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in northwest Washington, she said.

"It was hard to watch such a thing," Thernstrom said. "It was horrible."

A Republican staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jack Daly, who was also at the dinner, said in an e-mail to colleagues sent at 10:20 p.m. EST: "AG Mukasey collapsed in the middle of his keynote address at tonight's fed-soc dinner. He is still on stage after ten minutes and his security detail has called 911. The paramedics just arrived."

Twenty minutes later, Daly added in another e-mail: "Mukasey did regain consciousness before he was taken away."

Bush, a fierce loyalist, ventured outside his circle of friends and Texas associates to tap Mukasey 14 months ago to replace Alberto Gonzales, who had resigned in disgrace. Gonzales, the president's longtime friend and fellow Texan, quit after months of senators' demands for his resignation and investigations that called his credibility into doubt.

In a sun-drenched morning announcement on the White House lawn, Bush introduced Mukasey as "a tough but fair judge" and asked the Senate to confirm him quickly.

"Judge Mukasey is clear-eyed about the threat our nation faces," Bush said, praising his reputation as a smart and strong manager.

Mukasey, the former chief U.S. District Court judge in the Manhattan courthouse just blocks from ground zero, earned a reputation as a tough-on-terrorism jurist with an independent streak.

As a judge, Mukasey ordered the detention of young Muslim men as so-called material witnesses in terrorism cases following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. While those decisions drew sharp criticism from immigration lawyers, Mukasey won praise from Bush administration lawyers.

Mukasey endorsed much of the USA Patriot Act, which Bush pushed through Congress following the terror attacks to secure broad new law-enforcement power.

And yet he once criticized the Bush administration from the bench for overstepping in a terrorism case. As a jurist, he was known for his brusqueness and impatience with people who waste his time.

Before joining the administration, the former judge was a partner at New York-based law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.