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Bush to nominate attorney general

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has decided to nominate Michael B. Mukasey, a former federal judge from New York who has presided over several high-profile terrorism trials, as his next attorney general, and is expected to announce the selection tod...

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has decided to nominate Michael B. Mukasey, a former federal judge from New York who has presided over several high-profile terrorism trials, as his next attorney general, and is expected to announce the selection today, according to several people familiar with the decision.

Should the Senate confirm him, Mukasey (pronounced mew-KAY-see) would become the third attorney general to serve under Bush. As the nation's top law enforcement officer, he would preside over a Justice Department that has been roiled by congressional inquiries into the firing of federal prosecutors and the resignation of the previous attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales.

Unlike Gonzales, Mukasey is not a confidant of the president. Nor is he a Washington insider. But people in both political parties say he possesses the two qualities that Bush has been looking for in a nominee: a law-and-order sensibility that dovetails with the president's agenda for the war on terror, and the potential to avoid a bruising confirmation battle with the Democrats who now run the Senate.

One of those Democrats, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who led the fight to oust Gonzales, issued a statement Sunday evening praising Mukasey -- a suggestion that Democrats, who are already challenging Bush over the war in Iraq, have little appetite for another big fight at the moment.

"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. "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."

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White House officials refused Sunday to discuss the selection. But Mukasey spent Sunday afternoon at the White House, meeting with senior advisers to Bush, and by Sunday evening it seemed to be an open secret in Washington that Mukasey would be the nominee. Some allies of the White House spoke openly about the selection, as if Bush had already announced it.

"He's not as well known to everybody within the Beltway as some people; he has not been in and out of the Bush administration or the prior Bush administration, but he's a rock-solid lawyer and a first-rate judge," said Jay Lefkowitz, a former domestic policy adviser to Bush who practices law in New York. "I think the president, by reaching outside the inner circle, by reaching outside the usual suspects, is bringing someone who is really going to restore a lot of integrity to the department."

Mukasey, 66, was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1987, and retired last year to go into private practice. He spent 19 years as a federal judge in New York, including as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan. Before that, he was a prosecutor in Manhattan when Rudolph W. Giuliani was the U.S. attorney there. He and his son, Marc, are advisers to the Giuliani presidential campaign.

But Mukasey is not viewed as a political partisan, which has troubled conservatives, many of whom were hoping the president would select Theodore B. Olsen, the former solicitor general, as his nominee. Olsen seemed to be moving to the top of the president's short list last week until Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, said Olsen could not be confirmed.

Mukasey's prospects seemed to brighten after that, and over the weekend, it appeared that the White House was floating his name with conservatives to see if Mukasey could gain their support. An important sign that he would pass muster with them came Saturday night, when William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, endorsed Mukasey.

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