Lawyers Give AG Nominee Strong Marks

President Bush's nominee to succeed Alberto Gonzales as attorney general is retired federal judge Michael Mukasey of New York. Attorneys who have argued cases in Mukasey's courtroom say he is smart and fair.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

In the Rose Garden at the White House today, President Bush introduced the man he'd like to have succeed Alberto Gonzales at the head of the Justice Department. He's a retired New York federal judge.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm pleased to announce my nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey to be the 81st attorney general of the United States.

BLOCK: Mukasey is considered a Washington outsider. During almost 20 years on the federal bench, he heard some of the most important terrorism cases in the country.

Coming up, analysis from our legal experts.

First, NPR's Ari Shapiro has this profile.

ARI SHAPIRO: Defense lawyer Andrew Patel remembers the first time he was in Judge Michael Mukasey's courtroom. Mukasey assigned a court date to the lawyer ahead of Patel.

Mr. ANDREW PATEL (Criminal Defense Attorney): And with some trepidation, the lawyer said, your honor, I'm supposed to be on vacation. I'm sorry, could you give me another date? And without hesitation, Judge Mukasey said, you never have to apologize for being a human being in this court.

SHAPIRO: Patel represented defendants before Judge Mukasey pretty regularly for about 15 years. Everyone from street junkies to high profile terrorism suspects like the American enemy combatant Jose Padilla. Patel says he and Mukasey disagree on just about everything. But he thinks the judge is an excellent choice for attorney general.

Mr. PATEL: You know, there is a decency about the man and a respect for fundamental fairness that just goes down to the genetic level with him. I mean, his sense of due process is just wrapped in his DNA.

SHAPIRO: It's not so surprising that everyone interviewed for this story had glowing things to say on the record about Judge Mukasey. After all, who wants to slam the man who may soon be the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country? But the thing is, when the tape recorder was off, and people could presumably be a bit more candid, they still gushed about him.

One civil rights lawyer talked about a colleague who represented accused terrorists in Judge Mukasey's court. When the colleague died recently, Judge Mukasey delivered a moving speech at the attorney's funeral. The lawyer who described the scene said it's not often that a judge will develop that kind of a relationship with lawyers. It says something about him.

On the prosecutor's side, Bob Mueller appeared in Mukasey's courtroom many times as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York.

Mr. ROBERT MUELLER (Director, FBI): You know, a lot of judges, when they come in and they handle a matter, they like to think they're the smartest person in the room. With Judge Mukasey, more often than not, that was actually the case.

SHAPIRO: Mueller said prosecutors were always happy to get Judge Mukasey assigned to their cases not because he was a knee-jerk pro-government judge...

Mr. MUELLER: It was more because he just, you know, he ran a very good courtroom and he just kept things moving, and you knew that, you know, he had studied the issues and was on top of it.

SHAPIRO: One of the most prominent cases Mukasey handled was the trial of the blind sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted of plotting to attack landmarks around New York City.

Andrew McCarthy was the lead prosecutor on that case. He says there were times during the trial when Judge Mukasey ruled against the government, sometimes after heated fights.

Mr. ANDREW McCARTHY (Lawyer): And I have to say that there was never a time that we came home at night where we thought, you know, he just doesn't get it.

SHAPIRO: McCarthy wrote an op-ed last week with the headline "Judge Mukasey Would Make a Stellar Attorney General."

For years, Mukasey has been on Democrats' list of acceptable Republican nominees. They suggested him for the Supreme Court back in 2003. And Democratic senators started pitching him for attorney general six months ago.

A senior administration official today said getting an easily confirmable nominee was one factor, but not the determining factor in the decision to tap Mukasey.

At this morning's ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, Judge Mukasey said he's always had respect for the men and women of the Justice Department.

Judge MICHAEL MUKASEY (U.S. Attorney General Nominee): My fondest hope and prayer at this time is that if confirmed, I can give them the support and the leadership they deserve.

SHAPIRO: And President Bush had a message for Congress.

Pres. BUSH: It's pivotal time for our nation and it's vital that the position of the attorney general be filled quickly. I urge the Senate to confirm Judge Mukasey promptly.

SHAPIRO: The White House is hoping for confirmation hearings in two weeks. But some members of Congress don't think that's realistic.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy suggested that the timeline may depend on whether the White House is willing to hand over documents about U.S. attorney firings and other controversies. Leahy said in a statement, our focus now will be on securing the relevant information we need so we can proceed to schedule fair and thorough hearings.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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Mukasey's Career Steeped in National Security

Michael Mukasey speaks after nomination

Michael Mukasey speaks after President George W. Bush nominates him for attorney general. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Quick Bio: Michael Mukasey

Born: 1941 in New York City

Education: Yale Law School, 1967; Columbia College, Columbia University, 1963

2006-Present: Partner, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler law firm

1988-2006: Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (including six years as chief judge)

1976-88: Attorney, Patterson Belknap (eventually becoming partner)

1972-76: Assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division of the Southern District

The Associated Press.

The career of Michael Mukasey, President Bush's pick to succeed Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, is inextricably tied to national security.

Mukasey, 66, was nominated to the federal bench in 1987 by President Reagan. During his tenure on the bench, Mukasey earned a reputation as a no-nonsense law-and-order judge, steeped in the intricacies of national security.

For 19 years, he presided over a series of high-profile cases, including the 1993 prosecution of "the blind sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman, whom he sentenced to life in prison for plotting to blow up several New York City landmarks including the World Trade Center. In the 1996 sentencing of Abdel Rahman and co-conspirators, Mukasey accused Abdel Rahman of trying to spread death "in a scale unseen in this country since the Civil War."

Mukasey's Manhattan courthouse was located just blocks from the twin towers that were eventually destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Around-the-Clock Protection

Born in the Bronx in 1941, New York is in Mukasey's blood. He earned an undergraduate degree from Columbia University and worked for a time as a reporter. Mukasey left journalism to pursue a career in law — attending Yale Law School.

Early in his legal career, he worked as a prosecutor in Manhattan, serving under then U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani. The two New Yorkers remain close; Mukasey and his son are both legal advisers to Giuliani.

At times, Mukasey's professional life has spilled over into the personal. He and his wife have had around-the-clock protection from U.S. marshals for the past eight years due to the nature of his cases — an unusual but not unprecedented need for federal judges.

Mukasey's writings provide a window into his views on sensitive national-security issues. Commenting on the recent trial of Jose Padilla — the so-called "dirty bomber" — Mukasey argued that the guilty verdict was no cause for celebration.

"Current institutions and statutes are not well suited to even the limited task of supplementing what became, after Sept. 11, 2001, principally a military effort to combat Islamic terrorism," Mukasey wrote in the Wall Street Journal in August. He went on to offer tepid support for the establishment of a separate national security court "staffed by independent, life-tenured judges."

Mukasey is no stranger to the Padilla case. As district judge, he authorized Padilla's arrest in 2002. He backed the White House's view that Padilla could be held as an enemy combatant, although his decision was later overturned on appeal.

In a 2004 article, also in the Wall Street Journal, Mukasey defended the Patriot Act against charges that it eroded civil liberties. In particular, he defended "sneak-and-peek" warrants that allow agents, with court authorization, to enter premises, examine what is there and then leave.

"Here too, the logic seems obvious: If you leave behind a note saying 'Good afternoon, Mr. bin Laden, we were here,' that might betray the existence of an investigation and cause the subjects to flee or destroy evidence," Mukasey wrote.

Mukasey has often ruled in favor of the prosecution but, at times, has sided with the defense. Last year, he ordered a mentally ill woman released from jail after she was charged with helping an Iraqi spy agency under Saddam Hussein. Rebuffing prosecutors who brought the charges, Mukasey said, "there is no indication that [she] ever came close to influencing anyone, or could have."

Throughout his career, Mukasey has expressed strong support for an independent judiciary and bristled at perceived attempts by other branches of government to step on judicial turf.

"They [Congress] can have their blacklist but we have life tenure," he was quoted as saying in a 2003 New York Times article about congressional attempts to monitor whether judges are adhering to mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Support from Both Sides of the Aisle

Commentators on both ends of the political spectrum were quick to praise President Bush's choice to head the beleaguered Justice Department.

"He is intelligent and grasps very difficult issues very quickly," said Mary Jo White, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaking on NPR's Day to Day program. She rejected suggestions that, as attorney general, Mukasey would merely speak for the White House.

"He is his own person. He deals with the issue in front of him in a very hard-nosed intellectual way, and with a ramrod sense of fairness," she said.

Congressional Democrats indicated that Mukasey should expect a fairly easy ride during Senate confirmation hearings.

"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. Chuck Schumer of New York, a senior Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If confirmed, one of Mukasey's first challenges will be restoring morale among the Justice Department's 120,000 employees, after the troubled tenure of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Judging by the response of conservative commentators, Mukasey can count on their support during the confirmation process.

"My advice is this: Conservatives should hold their fire, support the president, enjoy watching Chuck Schumer hoist on his own petard, and get ready for a strong attorney general for the rest of the Bush administration," said William Kristol writing in the Weekly Standard.

Sam Buell, a former federal prosecutor, said there is little chance of a "Harriet Miers situation," referring to President Bush's ill-fated attempt to nominate his longtime friend and White House counsel to the Supreme Court.

"Even if there are people who are crying on the right, there will be other people who will say, 'Come on, this guy has a fabulous resume. How could you say he is not an appropriate attorney general?'"

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