Skip to main content
  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print

Bush nominates ex-judge to replace Gonzales

  • Story Highlights
  • President Bush praises Michael Mukasey for national security experience
  • Mukasey is a former federal chief judge in New York
  • President Reagan appointed him to federal bench in 1987
  • Gonzales resigned after controversy over attorney firings, surveillance program
  • Next Article in Politics »

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush announced Monday that he is nominating a former federal judge, Michael Mukasey, as attorney general.


President Bush introduces Michael Mukasey as his nominee for attoney general on Monday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mukasey will replace Alberto Gonzales.

Bush touted Mukasey's record in a Rose Garden announcement at the White House.

"Judge Mukasey was widely admired for his brilliance and his integrity" while on the bench, Bush said.

"He knows what it takes to fight this war [on terror] effectively," Bush said, citing Mukasey's experience in terrorism cases.

The president praised Mukasey's actions after the 9/11 attacks, when he "quickly reopened his court, even though it was just blocks from ground zero." Video Watch Bush announce Mukasey's nomination »

Mukasey "recognized the importance of maintaining a functioning justice system in the midst of a national emergency," Bush said.

Mukasey thanked Bush for the chance to serve in the Justice Department again and remarked on the changed security environment from when he was an assistant U.S. attorney three decades ago.

"Thirty-five years ago, our foreign adversaries saw widespread devastation as a deterrent. Today, our fanatical enemies see it as a divine fulfillment," Mukasey said.

He also said he would focus on issues beyond national security.

"The Justice Department must also protect the safety of our children, the commerce that assures our prosperity and the rights and liberties that define us a nation," he said.

Mukasey thanked Gonzales for his "support and encouragement," saying the outgoing attorney general called him Monday to offer congratulations.

Michael Mukasey

Born: 1941 in Bronx, New York

Federal judicial service: Judge, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York; nominated by President Reagan on July 27, 1987; confirmed by the Senate on November 6, 1987, and received commission on November 9, 1987; was chief judge, 2000-2006; assumed senior status in August 2006; service terminated in September 2006 due to retirement.

Education: Columbia University, A.B., 1963; Yale Law School, LL.B., 1967

Professional career: Private practice, New York, 1967-1972; assistant U.S. attorney, Southern District of New York, 1972-1976; chief, Official Corruption Unit, 1975-1976; private practice, New York, 1976-1987

Source: Federal Judicial Center

Mukasey, 66, was nominated to the bench in 1987 by President Reagan and, until September 2006, was chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York -- a high-profile federal court that's one of the nation's busiest.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called Mukasey "an extraordinary difference from John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales," the president's first two attorneys general.

"Mukasey comes out of a New York moderate tradition that goes back to Thomas Dewey; Lawrence Walsh, Iran-Contra prosecutor; Robert Fiske, first independent counsel in the Whitewater case," Toobin said. "These are all sort of moderate Republicans, not especially political people."

While on the bench, Mukasey presided over the complex 1995 trial of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and other suspects who were found guilty of plotting to blow up several New York landmarks, including the United Nations, the George Washington Bridge, and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels. He also oversaw the early stages of the case involving dirty-bomb suspect Jose Padilla.

Mukasey ruled Padilla, whom the Bush administration had declared an "enemy combatant," had to be allowed to see an attorney, which the Justice Department had strenuously opposed.

He also has written on national security issues. In an August op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal after Padilla's conviction on separate terrorism charges, Mukasey wrote that the case "shows why current institutions and statutes are not well suited to even the limited task of supplementing what became, after September 11, 2001, principally a military effort to combat Islamic terrorism."

Baruch Weiss, a former federal prosecutor who appeared before the jurist both as a lawyer and witness, said, "Judge Mukasey has an absolutely stellar reputation. ... He is smart, he is capable, he is efficient, he is businesslike, and he just gets things done."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, praised Bush for choosing a nominee who is not "another partisan administration insider."

Reid said Mukasey seems like someone who "knows how to say no to the president when he oversteps the Constitution."

While his politics and record should help Mukasey get through the Senate, some conservatives said they aren't satisfied.

"When it comes to other issues, particularly the issue of abortion we do not think his record is someone that we can trust, and we think the president should look at some other candidates," said Brian Burch, president of Fidelis, which bills itself as a Catholic-based advocacy organization "defending life, faith and family."

Bruce Fein, a former deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, said Mukasey is "not the right person for the job."

"I do not believe, despite certainly substantial credentials, that he has the national stature and strength in Congress to resist White House overtures to insist that he bend the law to assist the political agenda," said Fein, a constitutional and international lawyer with Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.

But the American Center for Law and Justice, a leading conservative advocacy group founded by Pat Robertson, called Mukasey's nomination "good for the Department of Justice and good for America."

Gonzales, a longtime Bush confidant whose 18-month tenure was beset with controversy, is scheduled to leave office Monday.

Peter Keisler -- the head of the Justice Department's civil division -- will serve as acting attorney general until a replacement for Gonzales is confirmed.

Paul Clement, who as solicitor general is the top-ranking confirmed official in the Justice Department, had been slated to step in for Gonzales. But Bush said Clement will remain in the department's No. 3 post "so he can prepare for the Supreme Court term that begins just two weeks from today."

Keisler had already announced plans to leave the department, one of several top Justice officials to head for the exits in recent months. But Bush said Keisler has agreed to to put off his resignation.

Gonzales announced his resignation in August after months of congressional grilling over the firings of federal prosecutors and allegations that he had misled Congress about the controversy surrounding the surveillance program.

Justice Department officials' initial description of the firings as "performance-related" provoked an outcry from the fired lawyers -- some of whom raised allegations that they were dismissed for political reasons.

Bush said at the time that critics had unfairly run Gonzales out of office.

A leading Gonzales critic, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, said Sunday that Mukasey is "a lot better than some of the other names mentioned" as potential replacements.

"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 Schumer, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Mukasey has "the qualities my Democratic colleagues said they want: experience, integrity and intellect."

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, ranking Republican on Senate Judiciary Committee and a Gonzales critic, called Mukasey "noncontroversial."

"The president has gone the extra mile to find somebody who would be acceptable, somebody who would be good," Specter said.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Mukasey's experience makes him "an ideal candidate for attorney general." He called for Mukasey to be confirmed within three weeks.

Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, pledged "serious and deliberate" consideration of the nomination.


Mukasey has been an adviser to the Republican presidential campaign of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who praised the nominee Monday.

"The president could not have picked a person with greater integrity than Michael Mukasey to be the next attorney general," Giuliani said in a statement. "As in everything Michael does, he will meet and exceed all expectations in his new role." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's John King and Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.

All About Charles SchumerAlberto Gonzales

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print