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Bush To Tap Mukasey To Be Attorney General

A senior administration official confirms that President Bush will use a Rose Garden announcement Monday to formally nominate Michael Mukasey to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer reports.

The exact time has not been announced.

Mukasey, a retired federal judge, is not expected to prompt the confirmation battle that Senate Democrats threatened to wage if a more partisan nominee was chosen. The 66-year-old New York native currently serves as a judicial adviser to GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani.

Previewing the president's comments, the administration official said Mukasey has "a wealth of legal and judicial experience and has a superb reputation for his fairness, intellect and dedication to public service."

The official also pointed to Mukasey's "extensive experience in national security cases." The president will say it is "essential that the U.S. Senate moves quickly to consider his nomination."

Mukasey has received endorsements in the past from liberals, including one of the Senate's most liberal Democrats. And while some legal conservatives have expressed reservations about his record on the federal bench, other conservatives are happy about the decision.

"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," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If Mukasey gets a nod from the Senate, he 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.

"For sure we'd want to ascertain his approach on such important and sensitive issues as wiretapping and the appointment of U.S. attorneys," Schumer said, "but he's a lot better than some of the other names mentioned and he has the potential to become a consensus nominee."

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 Democrats and Republicans.

Nan Aron of the alliance said the Senate would likely view Mukasey's nomination as a "conciliatory" act.

"He'd be closely scrutinized, but at the end of the day he would probably be confirmed," she said. "It would certainly be a departure for the Bush administration to send up a consensus candidate."

Bush critics contended the Mukasey nomination was evidence of Mr. Bush's weakened political clout as he heads into the final 15 months of his presidency. The president's supporters say Mukasey has impeccable credentials, is a strong, law-and-order jurist, especially on national security issues, and will restore confidence in the Justice Department.

Mukasey has drawn lukewarm reviews from some members of the GOP's right flank. 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.

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said some of his fellow conservatives are upset that former solicitor general Ted Olson, who represented Mr. Bush before the Supreme Court in the contested 2000 election, was not chosen. Last week, some Senate Democrats threatened to block confirmation of Olson.

"There is a case for nominating Olson, and inviting a Senate confirmation fight over issues of legal philosophy and executive power," Kristol wrote in a column posted on the Internet soon after he learned Mukasey was likely Mr. Bush's pick. "There is also a case, though, for nominating an attorney general equally as first-rate as Olson, but one who'll be easily confirmed — and who will, I believe, come to judgments similar to Olson's on key issues of executive power and the war on terror."

Mukasey is not as well-known as Olson in Washington. As chief judge of the busy federal courthouse in Manhattan for six years, Mukasey handled high-profile terrorism cases.

"I don't know enough about him, so he has to pass that test for me, go through that filter," Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., another member of the Judiciary Committee, told Fox News Sunday. "Is he going to be the president's guy? ... Or, is he going to stand up and defend the Constitution and be the people's lawyer as well?"

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 in prison.

Mukasey was nominated to the federal bench in 1987 by President Reagan. He was chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York before he rejoined the New York law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler as a partner in September 2006.

He first joined Patterson Belknap in 1976 after serving as assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division of the Southern District, where he rose to head its official corruption unit.

The Mukasey nomination could be Mr. Bush's last major Cabinet appointment.

Friday was the last day of Gonzales' 2-1/2 years at Justice. Solicitor General Paul Clement will serve as acting attorney general until the Senate confirms Gonzales' replacement.

Gonzales' conflicting public statements about the firings of the U.S. prosecutors led Democrats and Republicans alike to question his honesty. Their charges were compounded by his later sworn testimony about the terrorist surveillance program, which was contradicted by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller and former senior Justice Department officials.

A congressional investigation into the firings recently shifted its focus onto whether the attorney general lied to Congress. The Justice Department also has opened an internal investigation into the matters.

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