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Sources: Retired judge may replace Gonzales

  • Story Highlights
  • Michael B. Mukasey may be nominated for attorney general
  • Mukasey was chief judge for the Southern District of New York
  • Ronald Reagan appointed him to federal bench in 1988
  • White House: President Bush will make his choice "sometime soon"
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From John King
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A retired federal judge is a leading candidate to replace Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose last day on the job was Friday, two sources familiar with the search for a successor told CNN on Saturday.

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Michael B. Mukasey presided over many high-profile trials as chief judge for the Southern District of New York.

Michael B. Mukasey, 66, was nominated to the bench in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, and was chief judge until September 2006 for the Southern District of New York -- a high-profile U.S. court district that's one of the nation's busiest.

One of the sources for the Mukasey information is a government official who spoke on the condition he not be named; the other is a conservative activist close to the Bush White House.

The search to replace Gonzales is in its final stages and the subject of high-level discussions this weekend, with a choice likely to be announced next week, the government official said.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, in an e-mail exchange with CNN, said the White House would not discuss the names of potential candidates, but added that President Bush will make his choice "sometime soon."

Gonzales announced his resignation last month, and Bush said he accepted it with reluctance.

Many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle had called on Gonzales to quit after the firing of several U.S. attorneys in 2006.

He also was at the center of a dispute over the controversial no-warrant eavesdropping program authorized by Bush.

Solicitor General Paul Clement, the Justice Department's No. 3 official, will be acting attorney general until a replacement is confirmed.

Leading Democrats have warned the White House in recent days that a nomination of former Solicitor General Ted Olson -- another candidate thought to be on the short list of potential successors to Gonzales -- would provoke a fierce confirmation battle.

Some liberals went as far as saying the Senate would refuse to confirm Olson, but administration sources said he remains a candidate.

Ironically, nominating Mukasey could cause Bush trouble from the conservative right.

In 2005, the liberal group Alliance for Justice listed Mukasey among those it considered "consensus" choices for possible Bush Supreme Court picks.

In 2003, liberal Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, a leading liberal voice on judicial nominations, listed Mukasey as an acceptable Supreme Court choice in a letter he sent to Bush.

Those endorsements raise suspicions among conservative groups, a dynamic made worse by fears that Bush is wary of risking a confirmation battle over a conservative like Olson, because of the president's low political standing.

After his retirement, Mukasey returned to Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler law firm in New York.

He joined Patterson Belknap in 1976, following his service as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Criminal Division of the Southern District, where he was chief of the Corruption Unit. He left the firm as a partner in 1988.

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While with the Southern District, Mukasey presided over many high-profile trials, including that of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and 11 co-defendants, who were charged with plotting to destroy New York City landmarks.

Mukasey is a graduate of Yale Law School and Columbia College, and is a native of the Bronx. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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