WASHINGTON, Sep 17 (Reuters) US President George W Bush today nominated Michael Mukasey, a retired federal judge and law-and-order conservative, to replace beleaguered Alberto Gonzales as US attorney general.
The 66-year-old Mukasey drew quick praise from a number of Democrats as well as Republicans, suggesting he may win relatively easy confirmation in a Democratic-led Senate that has been sharply divided over administration terrorism policies that some said violated civil liberties.
As a US District Court judge in New York for 18 years, Mukasey presided over a number of high-profile cases, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center for which he received praise from a federal appeals court.
''Judge Mukasey is clear-eyed about the threat our nation faces,'' Bush said in introducing him at the White House. ''I urge the Senate to confirm Judge Mukasey promptly.'' Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who has clashed with the administration and will head the confirmation hearing, said, ''Cooperation from the White House will be essential.'' Under bipartisan pressure, Gonzales, a longtime Bush friend who earlier served as White House counsel, announced his resignation last month, effective from today.
Gonzales was criticised at home and abroad for the administration's tough anti-terrorism policies. He also drew fire from Democrats as well as some Republicans for his ouster last year of nine federal prosecutors.
While critics questioned Gonzales' truthfulness and ability to lead the Justice Department, Bush saluted him in naming Mukasey as his successor.
''From his days as Supreme Court justice in Texas to his years as White House counsel and as attorney general of the United States, this honorable and decent man has served with distinction,'' Bush said of Gonzales.
NOT AN INSIDER Mukasey, unlike Gonzales, is not a Bush insider. Lawmakers said they are hopeful if confirmed his top priority would be to serve the nation, not the president.
Mukasey, an authority on national security issues, emerged as Bush's choice after Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid vowed last week to would block a then leading nominee, former US Solicitor General Theodore Olson, as too partisan.
A number of conservative groups were angry at Bush for giving up on Olson, but most appear pleased with the selection of Mukasey, a Senate Republican aide said.
Democratic Sen Charles Schumer, who led the drive to force Gonzales out, said Mukasey had the potential to become a consensus nominee.
''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,'' said Schumer, who is from New York, where Mukasey spent his career.
Sen Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Bush made a ''very conscious and deliberate effort to nominate someone not controversial.'' Mukasey was appointed to the federal bench two decades ago by Republican President Ronald Reagan. He earlier served as an assistant US attorney. He retired from the bench last year.
While a federal judge, Mukasey presided over a number of celebrated cases, such as the trials of 10 people accused of plotting terrorist attacks on New York, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
In a more recent case, Mukasey found that the government had a right to hold Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant without charging him with a crime. But he also ordered the administration to allow Padilla to meet with a lawyer.
The liberal Alliance For Justice, which has battled the White House, called the Mukasey nomination ''a step in the right direction.'' ''He has shown independence and a willingness to stand up to this administration,'' said Alliance president Nan Aron. But she said, ''The Senate must scrutinize his record, and Judge Mukasey must provide meaningful answers to senators' questions.'' Mukasey is certain to be questioned at his confirmation hearing about his court cases as well as if he will cooperate with ongoing congressional probes of Gonzales' firing of US prosecutors and handling of Bush's domestic spying program.
He will also likely be asked if he would urge a resistant White House to comply with congressional subpoenas.
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