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Mukasey sworn in as attorney general

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  • NEW: Mukasey takes oath of office without fanfare from Justice Department official
  • New attorney general is taking over embattled Justice Department
  • Retired federal judge won confirmation in 53-40 Senate vote
  • Some Democratic senators opposed nominee because of views on waterboarding
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Retired federal judge Michael Mukasey officially became attorney general Friday, taking the oath of office without fanfare from a Justice Department official.

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Attorney General Michael Mukasey was sworn in at his new Justice Department office Friday.

Mukasey flew to Washington from his New York home, and a short time later arrived at his new Justice Department office where the oath was administered in private by Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus.

Next week, Mukasey will be formally sworn in at a public ceremony either at the White House or the Justice Department. No date has been announced.

The Senate late Thursday approved Mukasey's nomination for attorney general by a 53-40 vote despite controversy over his refusal to brand the terror interrogation technique of waterboarding as torture.

President Bush nominated Mukasey to replace longtime ally Alberto Gonzales, who resigned in September.

Mukasey will take over a Justice Department beset by high-level vacancies and congressional investigations.

The nomination had been considered at risk after a number of Democratic senators opposed Mukasey because of questions that arose from his views on waterboarding and the president's power to order electronic surveillance. Video Watch as the vote is announced »

Mukasey, 66, a former federal judge from New York, told senators he considers waterboarding "repugnant," but he could not categorically say whether the technique amounts to torture, which U.S. and international law bans.

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 and confirmed by the Senate in 1987; was chief judge, 2000-2006; assumed senior status before retiring in September 2006.

Education: Columbia University, bachelor's degree, 1963; Yale Law School, law degree, 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

Waterboarding is a technique that involves restraining a suspect and pouring water on him to produce the sensation of drowning.

The White House issued a statement after the vote thanking the Senate for confirming Mukasey, whom Bush called "a man of strong character and integrity, with exceptional legal judgment."

"I look forward to working with the Senate to fill the other senior leadership positions at the Justice Department so that America has the strongest, most capable national security team during this time of war," Bush said.

Mukasey's confirmation was all but assured a week ago when two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Chuck Schumer of New York -- said they would vote in favor of Mukasey despite the controversy.

"The Department of Justice, once the crown jewel among government institutions, is adrift and rudderless," Schumer said Tuesday -- the same day the committee voted 11-8 to send Mukasey's nomination to the Senate floor.

"It desperately needs a strong and independent leader at the helm to set it back on course, and I believe Judge Mukasey is that person."

Schumer said that in a meeting last week, the nominee told him that Congress would be within its rights to pass a law that bans waterboarding across all government agencies and that the president "would have absolutely no legal authority to ignore" it.

Schumer said he believed Mukasey would be more likely to find waterboarding illegal than an interim attorney general.

"Indeed, his written answers to our notices have demonstrated more openness to ending the practices we abhor than either of this president's previous attorney general nominees have."

But Mukasey's pledge to enforce such a law rang hollow with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's chairman.

"Some have sought to find comfort in Judge Mukasey's personal assurance that he would enforce a future, new law against waterboarding if this Congress were to pass one," Leahy said Tuesday.

"Unsaid, of course, is the fact that any such prohibition would have to be enacted over the veto of this president."

However, the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he believed Mukasey would enforce a law banning waterboarding.

A majority of Americans consider waterboarding a form of torture, but some of those say it's OK for the U.S. government to use the technique, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released this week.

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More than two-thirds of the respondents, or 69 percent, said they think waterboarding is a form of torture, while 29 percent said they didn't think so. Fifty-eight percent said they didn't think the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, while 40 percent said they did.

The CNN/Opinion Research telephone poll of 1,024 American adults was carried out November 2 through Sunday and had a sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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