Bush nominee Mukasey promises independent justice

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WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) U S attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey promised an independent pursuit of justice today if confirmed to replace Alberto Gonzales, who had been denounced as a political tool of the White House.

''Legal decisions and the progress of cases are decided by facts and law, not by interests and motives,'' Mukasey said in prepared remarks at the opening of the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing on his nomination by President George W Bush to head the Justice Department.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said yesterday, after a second private meeting with the nominee, that he expected Mukasey to be confirmed and to begin to rebuild a battered Justice Department.

''Restoring the Department of Justice begins by restoring integrity and independence to the position of attorney general,'' Leahy said at the start of the hearing.

''The attorney general is supposed to represent all of the American people, not just one of them,'' Leahy said in a pointed reference to Bush.

''Regrettably, the former attorney general enabled this administration to continue policies that are in fundamental conflict with American values.'' Gonzales announced his resignation at the end of August, under pressure in Congress from Democrats and some fellow Republicans who questioned his honesty and competency on a number of fronts, from his firing last year of nine U S prosecutors to his defense of Bush's embattled domestic spying program.

In nominating Mukasey, who has drawn bipartisan praise, Bush apparently sought to avoid a fight with the Democratic-led Congress and even join efforts to restore morale and public confidence at the Justice Department.

Mukasey said, ''The Justice Department's mission includes advising the other departments and agencies of government, including the president, on what choices they are free to make and what limits they face.'' ''The governing standard is what the law and the Constitution permit and require,'' said Mukasey, 66, a former chief judge of the U S District Court for the Southern District of New York. He retired from the bench in 2006.

REUTERS RSA RN2032

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