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Mukasey nomination may soothe strains between Democrats, Bush

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Charles Schumer: Nomination shows "new attitude" in White House
  • Senate panel chairman encouraged by negotiations with White House counsel
  • Retired Judge Michael Mukasey experienced in national security cases
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nomination of retired Judge Michael Mukasey for attorney general drew praise from Democrats and may help overcome some of the enmity left behind by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

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President Bush introduces attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey on Monday at the White House.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, one of Gonzales' sharpest critics, said the nomination "certainly shows a new attitude in the White House."

"Instead of simply throwing down the gauntlet, they're trying to meet us part of the way in choosing someone who by reputation and in his career has shown fidelity to rule of law above conservative politics," Schumer said.

Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was encouraged by negotiations with White House counsel Fred Fielding to get the administration to turn over materials related to the U.S. attorneys firings, a controversial terror surveillance program and the treatment of terror detainees -- things that got Gonzales in hot water with Democrats.

"All I want is the material we need to ask some questions about the former attorney general's conduct, you know on torture and wiretapping. So that we can legitimately ask, 'Here's what's been done in the past, what would you do?' " Leahy said.

Fielding that "said he was sure we could work out material that would satisfy me," Leahy said. "I take him at his word."

Earlier, Leahy had suggested he might not schedule a confirmation hearing for Mukasey until the committee got the long-sought-after and politically charged information.

Democrats still promised a thorough examination of Mukasey during confirmation hearings.

"There should be no rush to judgment," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, in a statement. "The Senate Judiciary Committee must carefully examine Judge Mukasey's views on the complex legal challenges facing the nation."

But Reid praised Bush for choosing a nominee who is not "another partisan administration insider."

In a bid to ease any concerns that might arise on the right about Mukasey, the White House also set up a series of meetings Sunday with conservative legal activists, and more outreach is planned, a senior administration official said.

One well-known conservative legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice, on Monday endorsed Bush's pick as "good for America," and a number of Republican lawmakers also expressed support.

"I think the president has gone the extra mile to find somebody who would be acceptable, somebody who would be good," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican.

Mukasey, 66, spent more than 18 years on the federal bench before retiring in 2006 after six years as chief judge in the Manhattan-based U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. As a judge, he presided over several high-profile terrorism cases -- credentials Bush touted while announcing the nomination in the White House Rose Garden. Video Watch Bush nomination of Mukasey »

"Judge Mukasey is clear-eyed about the threat our nation faces," Bush said. "He knows what it takes to fight this war effectively, and he knows how to do it in a manner that is consistent with our laws and our Constitution."

Mukasey, whom President Reagan nominated to the federal bench in 1987, graduated from Columbia University and Yale Law School. He has been in private practice in New York since retiring last year.

He also has a long association with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, swearing him in as mayor and, more recently, serving as an adviser to Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign.

As a judge, Mukasey presided over the 1995 trial of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who, along with other co-defendants, was convicted of plotting to blow up New York landmarks, including U.N. headquarters, the George Washington Bridge and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels.

Rahman also was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and is serving a life sentence.

Mukasey also presided over the early stages of the case involving "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla, who was found guilty last month on separate charges that he conspired to kill people in an overseas jihad and to fund and support overseas terrorism.

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In the earlier case, Mukasey overruled the Justice Department, which contended that Padilla, who had been declared an "enemy combatant" by Bush, did not have the right to see an attorney.

Gonzales announced his resignation in August after months of congressional grilling over the firings of federal prosecutors and allegations that he misled Congress about the terrorist surveillance program. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Arlen SpecterFred Fielding

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